Drobo DAS power issues

Disclaimer: This post is based on my current experience with the product and may not reflect the actual quality of the product. I might have just gotten the short end of the stick and getting a defective unit.

I purchased the Drobo 4 bay DAS unit from Canada Computers earlier this afternoon, and till now I have not been able to set it up to do what I want. DAS is short for Direct Attached Storage. It is a Storage unit similar to a NAS (Network Attached Storage) but instead of being connected to Ethernet and be accessible via the network to multiple computers, only the computer it’s connected to would have access to the drive. The connection on this particular model is USB 3.0, since USB 3.0 has a theoretical maximum transfer rate of 5Gbps. The write speed would be quicker than via Gigabit Ethernet, which is only 1Gbps. I have a dedicated Windows 7 machine acting as a file server and with the bandwidth of USB 3.0 being more than capable there is no point in spending more money on higher cost NAS units and configuring permissions and logins on another unit.

I’ve been reading up on NAS devices for a while now. Drobo seemed like a easy to configure device and the expandability seems like it would be a nice to use feature. The main reason why I decided to go with Drobo was the way they handle the RAID array. They initially create a 16TB volume, since this 4 bay can only handle 4TB drives per slot with a total maximum supported of 16TB. The actual available storage depends on the actual capacity of the drive you use. In a 2+ drive set up, one drive is used as a protection drive to help build the array in case one drive dies. I guess you would call this a parity drive in a regular raid configuration. So in my scenario, since I have 3 x 3TB drives making it a total of 9TB. One third of the total capacity is reserved for parity in case they need to rebuild the raid array. I am left with 6TB of useable storage. And thanks to the way storage makers and software makers calculate storage. I am left with even less. Around 5.4TB of actual usable storage. I had it connected to my File server so I can easily use the shared feature to share the drive to every device on my network.

I thought the device was easy to use. But after 8 hours of playing around with the thing, I have determined this particular unit is extremely frustrating,to the point where I wish I can just destroy the unit. But then I would be left with a $350 junk and won’t be able to exchange it for another unit. Anyway, the unit started out a little awkward.I plug my hard drives into the unit, powered it on and connected it to the computer. On the desktop side of things, I installed the Drobo bashboard program I downloaded from their website and waited for the software to pick up my Drobo. It took a couple of minutes for it to find the Drobo even though it was a direct connection to the computer. Did the whole set up, created my account etc and registered the product. At first the only thing I was able to access on the Drobo unit was to see the status of the drives. I was not even able to look at the cvolume and capacity. The unit randomly restarted itself, I’m guessing it was initializing something, cause it told me the unit had to restart. After it restarted, things were starting to work like the instruction said. I was prompted to format the drive to the format I needed. Since it’s connected to Windows 7, it’s been formatted as a NTFS drive. Though after I formatted, my Windows Explorer did not assign a drive letter to it. So I went to MMC to manually set up one. Which because my N drive.

As I attempted to start using the newly created storage to store files, namely my main computer’s acronis image. I noticed that creating folders was taking too long to create. Normally when you create a new folder, until the computer was really really slow, it would take a few seconds for the folder to appear and you can rename it, then it would take a few seconds after that for it to be ready for use. It took me about half a min to a min to get the folder icon to name the folder and another 30-60 seconds after that. In that same time I could have created multiple folders on any other drive I had installed. Some were connected directly to the computer via SATA while others were connected via USB 2.0. Deleting a folder also presented great challenges as it apparently needed to “discover” items in the folder, which at the time of deletion had absolutely no files in side it and even then, took a little more than a minute to finish scanning before I was promoted with the option to move the file to the recycle bin or cancel to delete. Going through with the delete took another 30-60 seconds to actually delete, and emptying the recycle bin of that 1 folder took another minute or 2. The entire process from creating the folder to deleting it took over 4-5 minutes to accomplish. I don’t remember any system taking that long to do something so simple. I decided to do one final test which was to actually move a file over to the computer. I moved one of my Bleach episodes, which was about 350MBs. The initial transfer rate of the device was showing 200MB/s which is awesome btw. But when it got down to the final 1% left in the transfer, something happened and it looked like the transfer stalled. It was stuck in that state for about 5 minutes before the transfer window disappeared, indicating that the transfer was complete. So if transferring a 350MB file took 5-6 minutes, I can’t even imagine how long it would take to transfer a 50GB file over to the device would take. My main computer runs on a 256GB SSD drive and has about 50-60GB worth of system files and applications that needs to be backed up and the Drobo was going to be the back up Drive for it. If this device is going to give me that much trouble with one small file, then the bigger files will be impossible to go.

Also, during that time the drive would randomly disconnect and unmount and Dashboard would no longer be able to see the drive as connected. It would take about 3-4 minutes for Dashboard to see the drive again. While occurs, the drive is not accessible via Windows Explorer. So it that were to happen while Acronis would transfer the file to the storage unit, would cause Acronis to fail thus defeating the purpose of backing up the computer to Drobo in the first place.

I figured it might have something to do with the initial configuration of the device, as the manual didn’t tell me what to do while the blue LEDS were blinking so I turned the unit off and on during that time. I decided to try to format the volume and start over, but apparently that did not work. Dashboard kept reporting an error even after I restated the Dashboard and the unit itself. Eventually I decided to try for the factory reset, it told me doing so would delete any data on the device and settings would be reverted to factory settings. I entered the confirmation text and it started doing the factory reset. Few minutes later, an error message saying factory reset was not possible, so I was like WTF…. I finally decided to try for a hard reset, looked it up on their website and attempted to do so. This is where the weird power issue started to happen. I found myself not being able to power on the unit anymore. No matter what I did it would not power on. I noticed the power switch had a green light that was still lit up even with no power connected to it. I later read that there is a built in battery back up to allow the drives to finish writing to prevent damage in case of power loss. This is a neat feature I suppose. But It’s going to be plugged behind a UPS unit anyway, so it won’t really make a big difference.

A couple hours later after dinner, I decided to try it again. The green light was turned off and surprisingly, it was able to power up again. So I shut it down, move the unit to my desk and power it up again. AND… it didn’t turn on… lol. To test my theory, I waited for the internal battery to completely drain again. Plugged in the power adapter and turned it on again. It powered up! Plugged in my 3 hard drives again and managed to configure everything. I did this test on my main machine so I decided to do a little test before moving it back to my file server. The transfer rate and creating folders was a lot faster this time. So I did a “proper” shutdown since everything was configured and moved it to my file server, in my closet. LOL

But now, since the internal battery had a little longer time to charge up, I have to wait for the internal battery to drain before I can attempt to power up the unit again. sigh The drive would be good if it worked properly, but this little issue breaks it for me. I can’t have the storage down while waiting for the internal battery to drain to power it up again. Even if it’s behind a UPS the unit would eventually need to restart if say firmware updates are available.

Looks like I have to bring it back to Canada Computers for an exchange. Since I can replicate this issue easily, I hope they don’t charge restocking fee on it. They should not. Now the question is whether to exchange it for another Drobo or forget about Drobo and get something like a Seagate NAS. Which costs about 20 dollars more. I’m starting to regret not going for that in the first place. Guess we shall see what happens tomorrow! But that means I’d have to get the 4th drive, and I’m not sure about future expandability since I’m not familiar how RAID array really works TBH. lol. More reading to do. What a waste of 8 hours trying to figure out how to get a broke unit working again. lol. Since this is my first Drobo device, based on this experience, I don’t know if I want to use another Drobo unit or even recommend this to people. But then again I haven’t used Seagate’s either. Normally buying technology I have no run into any issue, I think this is the first time I bought something that didn’t work out of the box. They normally die after a few years of using it. Right when the warranty runs out.

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