15 January, 2011

Drobo FS: Not so "Plug and Play" as advertised

Yesterday I received my brand spanking new Drobo FS, exciting stuff. It was delivered in a boring brown cardboard box. Opening the box I'm greeted by another box with the words "Welcome to the world of..." and below that was the Drobo in a nice cloth bag with the title "Drobo" on top.

So after I unpack and plug everything in and install the Drobo Dashboard I sit looking at an annoying Drobo Dashboard that just states something like "No Device Detected". I check the DHCP leases and find the IP of the Drobo, so that looks OK. Pinging the Drobo also turns out as one would expect, replies all around. Even opening the Public share in Windows Explorer works great. Everything except the administration tool seems to actually work. Checking the Drobo Knowledge Base they point to Firewalls being the main cause of these kind of problems. Well, everything is on a closed of LAN, no Firewalls there. Several restarts of the Drobo later I figure I'll attempt doing a restart of Windows; lo and behold, that seems to have worked.

So time to play around a bit. Installing a few Drobo Apps and see how that works. Well, it kinda doesn't, at least not as one would expect from a "Plug and Play" device. Downloaded the App, unzipped and copied the TGZ file to the Dobo Apps folder. Oh yea, and then you have to RESTART the Drobo for it to actually install the App? Why the hell that? The Drobo operating system is based on Linux. Why not just call a small script from the Drobo Dashboard, or even with a Cronjob, that does all that unpacking and installing except first doing it during reboot?

Anyway I install DropBear, a small SSH server and client. I reboot the Drobo to get it installed, then I try to SSH into it. Guess it didn't work; connection refused. Well, I take a look at the log and it seems that generating the host keys didn't work. Oh well, another reboot of the Drobo solved that. That was 2 reboots just to install one App? Plain stupid.

So finally, after a couple of hours, I have 2 Western Digital 2TB disks installed and are copying data at a whooping 22-27MB/s over a Gigabit network. Oh well, it's acceptable speed just for data storage. So after a while I add third 2TB drive, the Drobo starts doing its thing. While the Drobo does its thing I copy some more data to it, or so I thought. Suddenly the Drobo apparently drops all connections and Drobo Dashboard can't find it. I ping it and it responds just fine *sigh*.

So I turn of the Drobo again, and it apparently takes some time, but rather that than loose the data I already copied there, because the third drive I added was the drive that previously contained the data I already copied. After about 5 minutes I see the Drobo finally is turned off and I start it up again. The drobo starts working on protecting the data telling me not to remove any drives because the data currently isn't protected, or some such. After another 15-30 minutes I notice that the Drobo is reporting the third drive faulty. Worked fine with no S.M.A.R.T. errors on my Windows 7 computer.

After those initial annoyances I might actually come to like the Drobo, even with the shortcomings it have. The fact that I don't have to expand and rebuild arrays is nice and the Dashboard is only really needed for first-time setup, or so I think. More updates, maybe, when I have played around with it some more.


  1. well, i'm still working on trying to get the dropbear app to work.. until now i haven't been succesfull. those apps are defintely not working out of the box ;)

  2. Hey, I've run into the same issue with my Drobo Pro FS. I'm ssh'ed in (using Dropbear), and the connection suddenly drops. Subsequent attempts to connect are met with a terse 'Connection refused' statement.

    The disconnection occurred once when I was in the middle of a large file transfer, but has also happened when I had nothing but the terminal open and was doing admin work (looking at /etc/groups).

    Brian, do you have a sense of why the dropoff/refusal-to-reconnect occurs?


  3. I haven't looked into the Dropbear issues since installation. My best bet is to look at the logfile that is generated in the Dropbear App folder to troubleshoot the issue.

  4. Just installing a Drobo FS now.  Seemed fine on the old dashboard that is still shipping on the CD even though the new software has been out well over a year.  Maybe I got a unit that sat in inventory a long time?

    Updated the dashboard to the 2.x version and the drobo firmware and shutdown my computer over night, this morning the dashboard won't find the Drobo.  But it's on the network and I can write to it no problem.  

    Restarted the drobo, even moved it to be on the same switch as my computer to ensure there was no strange network issues.  Still not in the dashboard.  

    Next step, reboot windows.  Shouldn't be this difficult.  Drobo FS should come with a web based interface like routers do.  It runs linux.  It's got an app for apache.  This shouldn't be so flaky.