Drobo

Goodbye Drobo? Hello QNap?

I’ve been in the IT industry now for well over 20 years. I’ve used all types of hardware, drives, drivers, disks and raid systems. I’ve never had so much headaches with a system as I have had with Drobo.
[list]
[]Goes offline for no apparent reason
[
]Write speeds drop dramatically; right now I’m looking at 8MB/s
[*]amongst other issues…
[/list]

And I’m not the only one.

I’m now considering dumping my Drobo for something that we been using at work for 2 years and has proven time and time again that it works; period. The QNap series of storage devices are what I am currently looking at.

If there is anyone from Drobo who can prove to me that their devices are proven better the QNap, I’d love to hear from them. This is your chance… change my mind.

Nice try, but I very much doubt anybody from Data Robotics will answer your challenge.
Most of Drobo users bought it for the “nice” properties of their BeyondRaid algorithm (the ugly properties like steep performances degradation when filling up >50% were not advertised…).

What users of this forum would certainly appreciate if you can find the time would be a point by point comparison between the 2 solutions regarding :

  • heterogeneous disk sizes support
  • on-line disk size upgrade for a single RAID
  • noise
  • price
  • connectivity
  • ease of setup

I actually went the same route, sort of, and bought a QNAP for the speed relegating Drobo to be a backup destination for the QNAP and some other non-critical stores. The main driver for me was the lack of speed. I get around 24MB/sec for Drobo via FW800 whereas on the QNAP it’s around 60MB/sec via a remote mount (AFP).

That move isn’t for everyone in that any NAS is going to require a bit more technical know-how than Drobo or any DAS. It’s all about what you want/need versus what you are willing to invest. To take a stab at your questions:

  • heterogeneous disk sizes support

QNAP…none. It’s RAID5 and so if you have two 1TB and two 2TB your usable space will be ~3TB. The rest will be wasted unless you build a second volume or replace the other two drives.

  • on-line disk size upgrade for a single RAID

Works if you take the above into consideration. It’s a lengthy process just as it would be in Drobo in that you replace one drive…wait for the rebuild to finish…replace the next and so on. The difference is the number of drives. With QNAP you need to swap all four drives to use all of the space. With Drobo you need to swap two. Adding a larger drive to Drobo in one slot doesn’t get you any additional storage (play with the Drobulator and see).

  • noise

Quieter. I tend to have more vibration and fan noise from Drobo.

  • price

Depends on the model. The QNAP four slot is more expensive than Drobo by about €100. The QNAP 8 slot is less expensive than DroboPro. (Street prices for both.) However for that price difference you are getting a box with more memory and a faster CPU, which I believe is what contributes to the speed differences. Also, every QNAP supports iSCSI out of the box if that’s the sort of thing that you need. And it provides a lot more troubleshooting info (no encrypted logs to deal with) if you know how to use that sort of thing.

  • connectivity

The downside is that QNAP isn’t locally attachable via USB or FW such that it looks like one big disk. You must remote mount via SMB, AFP or NFS. That’s not a huge problem since I just add an login item to mount when I log in. Even remote mounted it’s hella fast so I don’t really care whether it’s local or not.

  • ease of setup

If you’re technically inclined then QNAP is easy to set up. If not then it will be a challenge only because you need to understand the various types of RAID, what volumes are, etc.

In the end I think a fair comparison (speed aside) is to say that a NAS is a lot like Linux, not for the technophobe or non-geek. Linux has come a long way to be more accessible to Joe Average but you still need some technical chops to make it work well. Drobo is more of a set it and forget it device with no option to do otherwise. :slight_smile: You sacrifice speed and the ability to know what is going on with the box in exchange for not having to learn a lot of techno-jargon.

The summary of all of this is that I still use Drobo but in a non-critical/if it fails “so what” scenario. It’s achilles heel is that it is a complex device that is: a) underpowered by a large margin*; b) tries to mask that complexity requiring queries to DRI support whenever it farts; c) has had manufacturing quality issues (I’m on my third, first was replaced by the reseller due to FW and fan h/w issues, second replaced under warranty when the SATA controlled went tango uniform).

I’ve had drive issues with Drobo as well that looked like a Drobo problem (see no ability to troubleshoot and limited info from DRI support when a case was filed) but may have been a bad run of WD GP 1.5TB drives**. I only figured this out when I moved the WD GP drives to the QNAP and popped some older Hitachi 1TB drives in Drobo. I was able to read SMART info on the WD drives and started to see errors piling up.

My one solid critique of DRI and Drobo are that they seemingly want to be the “Apple” of data storage. That’s a noble goal but the execution is flawed. While my Mac “just works” I can actually drop down to the BSD level and troubleshoot the thing myself if the need arises. I’ve never had to call Apple for anything other than pure hardware problems. DRI’s approach to Drobo is much like iPod or iPhone where you can’t see any of the magic smoke inside. Trouble is that any RAID device (and BeyondRAID is hybrid RAID) is much more complicated than iPod or iPhone. However, unless you buy DroboCare you are pretty much stuck for support after the first year (other than downloading updates when available and perusing this forum). What I mean by that is that if your Drobo does have a hiccup you cannot open a support case to have that encrypted log at least looked at so you know whether it’s a drive or Drobo issue. Yes I know you can de-crypt the logs (not applicable to DroboPro however) but if the box actually did more than provide cheeky status messages you wouldn’t need to do either. :slight_smile:

A more minor critique is that the Drobo itself is built a bit on the cheap. The components are generally lower end (smartphone CPU…small amount of DRAM, sometimes noisy fans, and I lost a drive door on my second Drobo because of the tightness between drives) though the price tends to be on par with more solidly built boxes. If I were CEO for a day I’d drop at least a 1.0Ghz CPU in the thing, 1.5Ghz if possible and switch to metal drive trays and better isolation between drive cage and cabinet to reduce vibration.

So…if someone were to ask me whether I recommend QNAP over Drobo the answer is “it depends”. If you’re capably technical or require high performance and are willing to live with the few tradeoffs that RAID5 or RAID6 entails (namely drives of different sizes) then go for it. If not or you just want to make use of that pile of assorted SATA drives you have laying about and can live with the performance issues then get a Drobo.

In both cases I highly, strongly recommend backing up since RAID doesn’t protect you against accidentally deleting something AND both RAID and BeyondRAID can and have failed in the past.

  • As to performance I’m speaking only of Drobo and Drobo second gen. I know not whether Drobo S/FS/Pro is faster and by what margin. DRI doesn’t publish the CPU and DRAM values for their boxes and I haven’t seen any recent messages or documents from Mark giving marketing’s view on performance.

** These were the latest and greatest WD GP 1.5TB drives so it wasn’t a firmware issue. Three of the four have had to be returned to WD so far and no I don’t run my QNAP or Drobo 24 by 7.[hr]
@rrevin…they’re not better, just different. No one from DRI is going to say anything on this thread. Your mistake is confusing Drobo for a NAS, which it ain’t. If you need high-performance, even on a good day Drobo won’t rock your world.

As to your specific issues, that’s something I’d work with support on. Do know that QNAP won’t be a panacea for all that ills you either. They have had their own batch of performance issues (peruse their forum). From 2.7.x until the latest firmware (so for much of this year) they had problems where they’d go offline for no reason when accessing them via wireless (WLAN -> GigE switch -> QNAP) and throughput was down around USB speed for a GigE connected box. This is fixed in their latest firmware but my point is that BOTH boxes are complex devices and neither will be 100% flawless. There are several gripes about iSCSI performance still (and QNAP don’t ship with an initiator and the freeware one they recommend is reported to be crash prone by some).

If QNAP offers the features you want, get the QNAP. :slight_smile:

The worst thing you can do with technology is to buy something wanting it to be something that it isn’t (yet). That leads to disappointment and anger.

Buy whatever you buy for what it does at the time you buy it, nothing more.

@Brandon…in my case Drobo’s marketing glossy led me to believe it would do everything I wanted. And that was mostly true so long as I could tolerate write speeds of (at the time) 12MB/sec using Firewire 800. The marketing glossy stated speeds were considerably higher and, had Drobo actually hit those once data was loaded, there wouldn’t be a QNAP in our network. :slight_smile: I don’t do photo or video editing but I do push large chunks of data around.

So while your advice is correct sometimes you only find out your new sleek box is a Ferrari with governor in it after the fact.

And I did find info after my monologue that said Drobo S is “25% faster” over Firewire 800 than the second gen. That pushes my current real world writes speed of 24MB/sec to 30MB/sec and is still pretty weak tea considering Firewire 800 is capable of much more than that (roughly 40-45MB/sec for writes to most FW800 drives…I get 50MB/sec on a Seagate FreeAgent Mac). Allowing for BeyondRAID to do its thing I’d be happy with 40MB/sec. DRI states that Drobo S eSATA is closer to full speed so I wonder where the FW bottleneck is.

I think it was MarkF that mentioned in another post that the Drobo FS and Drobo S have faster processors than the Drobo gen1 and gen2 units.

IMHO, except for the Elite, it’s really the lack of CPU horsepower and RAM that hinders Drobo transfer speed. Docchris has mentioned elsewhere that the lack of RAM causes the BeyondRAID block-mapping translation table to have to get unloaded/reloaded, causing additional slowdown (it’s akin to using virtual memory swapfile). The two factors combined makes the necessary processing (BeyondRAID + any data transport level processing like USB, iSCSI or SATA data-packaging) slow.

If it has a heftier processor, it’d generate heat and make more noise, but I think it’d be much faster. But I think DRI’s market is more “pretty on the desk” than “hidden in the closet” though the Elite/Pro have optional rack kits.

I’ve had varying performance between 12-30 MB/sec direct-attached. Our DroboPro at work gets better performance, but it’s also significantly less full.

@Buzz Lightyear
Thanks a lot for this very detailed and very informative answer.
On my side, although I would probably have qualified as a geek in the past, I have now much less fun tweaking things, and I have definitely fallen for the Apple “simplicity”.
So I guess I am stuck with the Drobo for some time, although there are (too) many things I don’t like in it, including all the ones you mentioned.

i would really love for them to port the beyond raid tech to the x86 platform

you’d be able to have 10 disk boxes which had acceptable performance with a dual core intel atom, and just think if you had a 24 disk box with a xeon in it :wink:

@Brandon/@Docchris…that’s my theory as well (CPU/memory bound).

The chassis in Drobo is tight and to get better airflow would entail making it a bit higher. I won’t use 7200rpm drives in it any more due to heat build up. On the other hand if Drobo had that x86 CPU (Atoms are low power/low thermal output) and better troubleshooting capability I’d be all over it. For the former I’m not sure how moving from ARM to Intel Atom would work. I think VxWorks runs on Atom but I haven’t dinked with it at all. For the latter, the info is already available as I’ve seen the logs. Having an “Advanced” nerd knob on Drobo Dashboard that presents the SMART status and perhaps any other error info would be helpful.

Apropos of the CPU/memory discussion, I was about to upgrade a drive on Drobo so I powered it off and popped the drives to check which ones were the oldest. Apparently the drive in the bottom slot wasn’t in all the way and I got the dreaded red light when I rebooted. (I hadn’t swapped in a new drive yet, thankfully.) It was all of two minutes to re-insert the drive and now Drobo Dashboard says that it’ll take 47 hours to rebuild (it’s 78% full currently). Doesn’t exactly warm the cockles of my cockles. In comparison, with the QNAP about 52% full if I pop a drive and plug it back in in the same manor the rebuild is very short. It seems smart enough to know that the same drive was plugged back into the same slot and that not much has changed in the intervening two minutes. I’m guessing that they keep a journal in memory and can compare that quickly. If I plug a new bare drive in the rebuild takes about 8 to 12 hours. No I don’t make a habit of pulling drives just for fun.

That said, having a more positive insertion system (I don’t like to slam drives in and on Drobo there’s a risk of breaking the SATA riser off of the board if you use too much force) would’ve precluded this and that faster CPU and more memory made the event much less painful than a two day vigil (plus two days for each drive I replace…I’ll be done by next Monday at this pace). I was (seriously) considering buying a DroboPro since I need another disk box and don’t really need another NAS. Since the Pro is out of stock at my reseller I was considering the Drobo S since I don’t (yet) need 8 drives. Now I’m not so sure.

drobo does support a quick rebuild, i’ve had it just do a 2-3 minute cursory disk check and then be solid greens, it is only if it has doubts it does a full rebuild

Mine must be full of doubts then. :slight_smile: 43 hours to go…

I had exactly the same problem, several times, always with the bottom drive, on 2 different Drobos, with 2 different disks sets.

The first time it happened, I had powered off my Drobo and reconnected the FW800 cable. So I thought it was a false connection at the bottom.
After it happened twice, I opened a case with DRI, sent the log, they sent me a replacement power block which changed nothing, then finally a replacement Drobo which may not change anything either, because…
…I reproduced since the same problem on a friend’s Drobo, using a different disk set on a different Mac : always the bottom disk not recognized, then recognized after unplugging/replugging it, then rebuilding for 3 days.
It may be related to one of the latest firmware updates (both Drobos used 1.3.7), but it is difficult for me to tell when this problem appeared first, since I do not power it off/on or unplug/replug very often.
The spurious red light is irritating but would not be a major problem if there was no unnecessary rebuild after unplugging/replugging the bottom drive.

May be if enough people report the same kind of behavior, DRI support will finally seriously look into it…

My second Drobo had a SATA failure in that slot where it would reject every drive I inserted. Strange but this one has behaved except for this time. And in this case I don’t doubt that I didn’t have the drive fully seated. The trouble is that I don’t like to slam drives in. Without seating levers and with the relatively tight space and the fact that the SATA connectors sit on a riser plugged into the main board I really don’t want to risk breaking something. Perhaps I was a bit too careful.

As I write this we’ve been rebuilding for 22 hours and the progress bar says 40 hours to go and about 25% complete. At this pace I may just wipe the thing and pull it offline. I really don’t have the patience to wait 4 days for BeyondRAID to rebuild for each drive I swap and I planned on swapping two. I think my decision is made, that is that I’m going to relegate Drobo to third tier offline storage and not get another.

I like the Drobo concept, I really do, but the execution is poor at best. To put it in perspective, BeyondRAID isn’t supposed to have the limitations of RAID but it has the biggest in spades, namely slow volume rebuild times. My wife, who isn’t technical and so the consumer DRI wishes to target, would’ve lost patience and punted the thing long ago. Really slow (read: low-end) hardware kills what is really a slick concept.

Re-layout took 48 hours exactly for 2.11TB on a 2.7TB Drobo. Glutton for punishment I then swapped the oldest drive for a new 2TB drive (Seagate 5900.12). Dashboard says it’ll take >70 hours this time. sigh

Welcome to the club…
You upgrade the 5 drives in your Drobo S, it takes 10 days.
The benefit of the Drobo S, contrary to the Drobo, is that during this llooonnnngggggg rebuild, you are at least protected against a 2nd drive failure…
…assuming you activated dual-disk redundancy.

What’s funny is that whenever I consider adding a second Drobo to the box mix (as said I like the concept) something like this happens that makes me re-think my strategy. I was hot on the trail of getting a Drobo Pro or a Drobo S until this week. If it were just throughput I could live with it but these rebuild times…

If throughput were faster I’d have copied the data off, reformatted and copied it back but by my best guess that’d take between 50 and 60 hours and I’d need to find a place to put the data in the meantime. Of course since I want to change out two drives that might’ve been faster.

Some good comments here… but I’m still waiting for ANYONE from Drobo to chime in and change my mind…
Looks like even they won’t defend their products due to it’s limitations.

Unless someone from Drobo anwers soon… I’m dumping this thing.

rrrevin…good luck with that. No one from DRI will respond to you on this thread. Just like the old Drobospace if you have a specific problem you can get Jennifer to help push it through tech support or point you to a KB or FAQ if it helps answer a question. Beyond that it’s almost strictly just us. The only difference is that the threads are a bit “tighter” rather than the freewheeling bitchfests on the old Drobospace.

That’s why it’s titled “Community Support Forum” - if you want to talk to someone DRI, especially if you want to do a “challenge me to buy this” - you really need to talk to a DRI salesperson.