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Drobo: The Ultimate Network Peripheral?

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I was recently introduced to the Drobo box. If you’re not familiar with it, simply put, it’s the ultimate home backup server.

For $400, you get a BeyondRAID array that can support up to 4 simultaneous drives, and caps at 16TB. Even cooler is the ability to swap out your drives with a single push of a button. Drobo will backup your files across each drive, so if one fails, your files are still safely stored on the others.

Backing Up

Drobo makes it apparent how easily it integrates with Time Machine right from the start. You can set the limit to how much Time Machine will backup on your Drobo drives, and with FireWire 800, or via your network, it’s hassle free backup just like Time Capsule.

iTunes Streaming

To add a little envy to the product, DroboApps features an iTunes Media extension that allows you to share your iTunes library across your network. Keep in mind it costs extra for the FireWire and Network support as it’s a separate attachment. So not only will it back up your data, but now it can stream your iTunes content to your Apple TV or computers across your network.

The Competition

Drobo may offer redundancy and media sharing,  but let’s look at some other viable options. Correct me if I’m wrong, but if you were to hook up a secondary drive to your Apple Time Capsule as a NAS drive, wouldn’t it be the same thing? One drive for back up, and one for sharing media across your network?

I question Drobo, only because from the people I know who have experienced it, and based on Drobo’s Amazon customer reviews, the device doesn’t seem 100 percent reliable. However their customer service record looks to make up for it.

Also considering other alternatives, such as HP’s Media Smart Server, I’m left wondering which is the most effective, but ultimately cost effective device for my home. I guess it really comes down to what matters most to you. If you’ve had experience with any or all of these devices, please share in the comments.

29 Responses to “Drobo: The Ultimate Network Peripheral?”

  1. I have a Drobo second gen with FW800…

    I bought it with all 1TB drives.
    Worked ok but a bit slow, THEN, one day when switching drives it got stuck in what tech support called an “infinite loop”….
    I tried repeatedly with tech support to get this fixed. All they kept telling me was reboot, let it run, etc…
    I went for 6 months on and off stuck in this loop praying my data was ok….

    3TB of pictures and HD video lost of my newborn son….

  2. If you get a Drobo which is reliable, great. But I didn’t. The device has lost its formatting a number of times and has had to be wiped. It also has Firewire port issues. data robotics, the makers of Drobo have not been very good on the Tech Support front, it should be replace able under warranty which you have to pay for and you also have to pay to ship it across Europe because that don’t have a repair center in the UK. A full review is here because it would take up to much space on this website. I also suggest other options.

  3. I am working in Public Sector and we needed to have a space where staff can store their multimedia content.
    I am using 4 Drobo Pro with 16TB on each with two drive redundancy option. I am using two Drobo for network share and two Drobo Pro as an backup. Which I am doing every night. I am using iSCSI to connect my Drobo with Server 2008. And I shared the Drives on Network with the DFS path. Since past 2 months I did not have any problem. It is looking good uptill now.

    I only had a problem when I updated my DROBO Dashbaord and it mess up with the settings. So do not go for newer version of Drobo dashboard as it has not been tested throughly.

    The only problem I have seen it copy’s the data very slow when we are moving the data like lets suppose 40GB from other network drive to Drobo. Sometime it takes hours, usually 3 to 4 hours.

    But I am pretty much sure this solution will work really good.

    The cost is really low as compare with other solutions available in the market.

  4. I’ve had the Drobo for about 2 months (2 2TD HDs). Nothing bad has happened. I have a medium sized network (2 iMacs, MacBook, Apple TV, and 1 PC – eeww). My solution was to store all of our media (movies, music, videos, and photos) on our Drobo so we can access it from one place instead of having everything in several different places (e.g. 2 different itunes, 4 different computers, 3 different iphotos, etc.). Having a wife that habitually drops external HDs we thought it would be prudent to get a big storage unit that she can’t touch.

    To address the issue of not having everything in one place: a few smaller externals to use for time machine backups seems prudent. Then I just store the externals and pull them out for backups when needed.


    I’ve had my second gen firewire drobo unit for about three months now. I have it attached to an intel mac mini that I use as a home server. The drobo is connected to the mini via firewire 800 to 400 cable. The drobo has four 1Tera. Wd green drives in it.
    So far the drobo has been performing flawlessly. I have had no problems.

    As for video, I use it to stream video from my rather large itunes video library to my apple tv in another room with no slow down are hiccups. It works great to video streaming.

    Again, Drobo version 2 from “data robotics, inc.” is a snap to set up, very versatile, fast and an easy to manage. I’ve had zero problems with this fantastic device. Remove a drive whilst streaming video and it continues to work. The way this thing works is nothing short of magic.

    I did my research before I purchase the Drobo and found that most of the problems people were having, especially with Drobo version 1, was due to the firmware update. This is why you should always take a wait and see approach to firmware and software updates. Wait a month or two and do some internet research of people who have installed the update and observe if they are having any difficulties and if so, is there any working solutions.

    Also. I find that the use of seagates 1.5 Tera. drives were causing problems when used with the drobo unit.

    • gabriel

      “As for video, I use it to stream video from my rather large itunes video library to my apple tv in another room with no slow down are hiccups. It works great to video streaming.”

      hey brian,
      i’m looking to set up the same system, just that i don’t want to add a mac mini in between but connect the drobo(share) directly to the appletv.
      drobo -> (droboshare ->) appletv

      do you have an insights? works fine? streaming quality?

      thx for the help

  6. The Drobo has become almost iPod-like iconic in its space and made approaching RAID technology friendly for consumers. Despite its ease of use, we must keep in mind that is offers more the illusion of data reliability than actual reliability. What it does do is provide the convenience of data availability with little management required. First, RAID is not backup. RAID 0 (striping) spreads data over multiple slower disks to create the effect of a bigger faster disk. If any one disk fails, all data is lost. RAID 1 (mirroring) duplicates data on separate disks and protects against single drive failure, but if the data is corrupted by a software flaw or controller failure, you have instantly created two bad copies. Only a real backup copy can recover from these events. The Drobo’s BeyondRAID adds attractive features on top of RAID 5’s ability to recover from a single drive failure but still doesn’t provide backup. You still need a duplicate copy of the data on another drive, optical disk or tape to recover from 1) a computer system error, 2) failure of the Drobo controller or its power supply (there’s only one of each), or 3) failure of multiple drives. To simply protect data on a Mac, running Time Machine to an external drive on a separate UPS, is the simplest and cheapest solution.

  7. I do not have a Drobo myself, but I have been looking at it since the first version was announced. The main reason why to go Drobo rather than a single disk or even a RAID system, is the flexibility.

    A RAID needs disks that are of the same size (to use them effectively). A Drobo on the other hand, you just feed with whatever disks you have. Upgrading the capacity of the Drobo is SOOO much easier than upgrading a RAID system. Single disk system? One disk crashes, and your data is lost. The price however is the reason why I have not bought a Drobo yet, cut the price by 50%, and I will by one. Or at least cut the price by 25% and include the NAS-module.

  8. One major difference between Drobo and most NAS (and Windows server) is the fact you can format HFS+ (Journaled) which keeps it within Mac norms. You should be able to use something like Diskwarrior on it if you get directory corruption (as opposed to disk failure). Whether there is some translation used, ie, some internal format that is translated to a normal directory, I don’t know, but the fact that it calls Disk Utility when doing the initial format, seems to indicate this is not so. Can you put a RAID to sleep? From OSX system prefs? I’ve just started using FW800 Drobo with 4 1TB WD green drives, putting it through its paces. It wakes and sleeps perfectly along with the computer. Shows on the desktop like a normal Mac drive. Barely warm when running, as cool as the room when sleeping. The fan has not seemed to either kick on or rev to high speed. It is Mac silent and uses little electricity either awake or asleep. I’ve got an iMac, a Newer Tech box with a Carbon copy clone, and the Drobo – and sitting at my music workstation, they are silent. I have Drobo set for 16GB, because if and when a drive goes, I will be putting in 2TB (and perhaps by then 4TB) replacements and should be able to do so without a hassle. Data Robotics notes that this will increase Drobo bootup times, but since I have it sleep and not shut down, and reboot the computer every month or so, this will not be an issue. One should be able to buy a Drobo for 10% off list. I give it thumbs up.

  9. Take a look at the Intel-branded NAS boxes…. the SS4200-E is the current one, which replaced the SS4000. I’ve had a couple of each. They support up to 4 SATA drives in RAID 0/1/0+1/5 configuration, have Gigabit Ethernet, and function as a uPnP streaming server on your home network. Both models have been rock solid reliable for me, and the throughput is very good. I think the SS4200 is only about $350 now….

  10. The Drobo has crashed on me once (that I saw) and was fine after it rebooted itself. I think it’ll be another few month before there’s enough user experience to truly know how reliable Drobo is. From what I’ve read the second gen units are more reliable.

    One thing I DON’T like – after the first year you have to buy a plan to get firmware updates. Not appropriate.

    People need to realize they shouldn’t store critical data on a Drobo without a separate backup. The Drobo protects from a single disk failure. But that doesn’t mean the Drobo won’t suddenly be unable to read any of the data it holds if it had some other kind of failure.

    That said, my FW800 Drobo was a piece of cake to set up. It’s connected to a G5 and feeds my Apple TV. I also have an EyeTV connected that writes video directly to the Drobo.

    I picked Drobo because you can increase your storage without ANY hassles. Pop a drive out, pop a bigger one in. Drobo works away, taking advantage of the new space. Staying online the entire time.

  11. I’m using Boxee on my AppleTV to stream video from my server, which not only doesn’t require iTunes, but also supports many more video formats (i.e., more that the 1 that AppleTV supports).

    With this setup, you just set up a network share and point Boxee at it, so I don’t see why this wouldn’t work with Drobo (or a Time Capsule, or any NAS). Boxee’s got a little way to go before it’s got the polish of an Apple product, but it’s functional.

  12. @Ben, If you dump your entire iTunes library (including videos) as a file share on the drobo, and have your iTunes library pull from it, you can sync your Apple TV to your iTunes… and therefor have your video content now sharing on it. It seems like a weird process, and I don’t know how well it’d function streaming across multiple devices like that. But it’s an idea.

  13. Stephen D

    @dude re:NAS as Time Machine target

    Yes, setting up a standalone NAS device as a Time Machine target is definitely not Apple supported, despite the hacks out there. The main problem as I understand it is that NAS systems do not understand how to recover from error situations with the mountable images that networked Time Machine backups use, and corruption can easily start in.

    You cannot use a Drobo with DroboShare as a Time Machine target. BackMyFruitUp claims to address this shortcoming, but as pointed out by ecchi, DroboShare seems to carry it’s own set of headaches.

    If you use a Mac as a sort of file server and hook the Drobo up to it, using the Drobo as a Time Machine target for other computers on your network works fine (you can use the a script in the aforementioned BackMyFruitUp to turn on the Time Machine friendly flag on the Drobo), since all backups are effectively going through the file server.

    That’s one of the main reasons I purchased the Drobo, for networkable Time Machine backups. Apple’s Time Capsule is too limited, non-expandable, and according to many users, unreliable.

  14. Stephen D

    I’ve owned a late model Drobo firewire unit for a few months now, and I’m really enjoying it. I’ve had no problems with it so far. Administration is easy, and all the hype features in the marketing are true.

    It seems the Drobo is truly more Mac-like compared to other storage solutions: decent software interface, straight-forward front panel feedback, no-worries operation, auto-administrating and redundant backup, clean look, easy to open and add drives to. @ PAULIUS : During normal operation the Drobo lights do not flash, they are not blindingly bright, and the Netgear devices compared to the Drobo look like little PCs (non-uniform styling, boxy, power button, large contrasting logo).

    The one drawback is the lack of built-in NAS-ready ethernet. Enter DroboShare. This is a separate $200 product that attaches to the Drobo to allow for this (ethernet hook-up), and includes a bunch of applications such as the iTunes Streaming you mention. I recommend hooking up a Drobo to a Mac directly and setting it to share.

    Another minor drawback is the wall wort power adapter that can become easily unplugged, just like most other external hard drives.

    I didn’t buy a DroboShare, but have my Drobo in a closet attached via FireWire to a Mac mini I’ve set up as a file server and entertainment center (much better than a closed system AppleTV IMO). With a simple tweak, you can set the Drobo as a Time Machine target drive, which beats using a Time Capsule (just look at the bitter complaints from disgruntled Time Capsule owners on Apple discussion forums). As long as client machines on your network are setup to use wired gigabit ethernet, automated backups are virtually transparent.

  15. What Drobo has going for it is stupid-proof installation and repair and easily upgrade storage capacity from something like 4×500 to 2×500 and 2×1000. The repair process however takes several hours, if not days, depending on the extent of data (or if moving from standard 4xsame-size to 2xsame-size and 2xdifferent_same-size).

    Reliability? I’m not sure. I’ve had one since the very day it came out (pre-order), and have had only one problem – it became unresponsive, and mounting/unmounting didn’t seem to wake it up. I left it unplugged for a day, and all was fine after that.

    The unit itself is decent. Its when you get into “DroboApps” and “DroboShare”, that starts turning me into a ball of rage.

    I don’t even know why Drobo is advertising DroboApps, with the exception of the odd app (BackMyFruitUp) most lack adequate documentation, that you have to be a savvy *Nix user just to grasp and install Apps “properly” (e.g. pure-ftpd requires making up a conf file from scratch, with all the permissions and locations, user classes, etc – The same goes for the UPnP/DLNA server). Which completely goes against the whole “stupid-proof” mentality that is Drobo. If they want to get the ball rolling on these, they should pick-up support and advance them to a more user-friendly level.

    DroboShare is a huge piece of crap. Your Drobo will transfer much faster on the network with a network attached computer – there is something seriously wrong with the DroboShare NIC’s latency. Secondly, I don’t know what they were thinking by making it exclusively a NIC. It should double as a USB/Firewire hub/pass-through device; So in case you had a large amount of data to move around, it could be done directly, without unmounting it from the Share (aka shut it down first, wait, then plug it into a computer, copy/move files, then shut down the drobo again, re-plug it back into the Share.. thats some pretty redundant and pointless steps). And finally, the entire user-permission management is a complete joke on the Share. Its either “guest everybody” or “admin-only” – no real multi-user permissions what-so-ever.

    For us Mac users, it really does become question what is our best option? I can’t believe its WHS. From Apple, XServe is out of the question for consumer-level, and TimeCapsule/Airport Extreme come a bit short, due to lack of redundancy.

  16. Carlton Bale

    I am very pleased with my Windows Home Server. It’s Very easy to use and very powerful. There are a bunch of pligins and it comes with network capability, allowing remote access and automatic off-site backups.

  17. Jonathan Rider

    Awfully expensive… I agree with Albanyco …. get a couple of external drives, take some care and your there too …
    Drobo is a lot of marketing hype (Leolaporte/scottwhathisnameTWIP)

  18. G4 mac mini… with a bunch of firewire drives hanging off of it… cheaper… can be set-it-and-forget-it… no compatibility concerns w/AppleTV’s etc… and you get the luxury of a capable extra computer with a real, flexible OS if the need arises… as it’s got a full version of iTunes as it’s ‘media server software’

    just my $0.02

  19. Rudi Barani

    I’ve bought a Drobo recently – and am more than happy with it!

    It’s really a set-it-and-forgert-it device. Everything worked smoothly right from the start…

    I’ve added 2TB of hard disks, formated them to 16TB (a drobo can do that and will inform you if you need to increase physical space to support the size the formatted), and – voila – everything was fine. I used this little script ( to gernerate a size limited timemachine drive that I copied to the drobo and hooked it up to my AEBS. Works like a charme.

    So – from my part – no complaints at all. I am happy! And the best of it all: I can buy whatever drive I want to extend my Drobo in the future and don’t have to think about if they have the same size like the ones I bought now.

    Jupp – I would give it a five star rating and recommend it to my mom, best friend and whoever needs secure space for his/her data.

  20. I’ve owned both a Drobo and an HP Media Smart Server.

    My vote is for the latest iteration of the WHS from HP. It has a bunch of Mac-specific features and it just works.

    The Drobo was nice, but never quite felt supremely reliable to me. Had quite a few issues with mine in the 4 months of ownership.

  21. Just wonder how good the Apple TV support is. Does the streaming works really only works for music? Especially the video section would be highly interesting because of the huge available space on the Drobo. Does the whole thing work with all these DRM goodies? Anybody has more experience in this area?

  22. A NAS attached to a Time Capsule is not the same thing as a Drobo. Does a NAS allow you to put in 4 SATA drives? Can you swap the drives while retaining your data while the NAS is on? Does a NAS do RAID? And as far as I know, you cannot use a NAS with Time Machine without a little hacking.

  23. It looks ugly to me with all these bright flashing indicator lights. There is a lot of alternative to this. I would recomend to take a look at ReadyNas NV+ which I had for 2 years and it does the same job. Works great with Mac and PC. Has Ethernet and USB Sync options and even more.

    • The lights DON’T blink! The green indicate there is a drive present and the blue lights are a capacity status indicator.

      How can you slam when you don’t even know what you are talking about?

  24. I hate to be nit-picky but “So not only will it back up your data, but now it can stream your iTunes content to your Apple TV or computers across your network.” is a little misleading, as it will only stream music, and not video. AFAIK there is no way to stream video to an Apple TV other than having an actual instance of iTunes running.

    Looks pretty cool though.