By   November 8, 2014

Drobo Sucks

As I get older, I find my desire to do sysadmining is waning. I just want stuff that works; I already have plenty of hobbies. I got tired of dealing with disk failures on my Plex server and my distaste for sysadmining overrode my tendency towards thriftyness. I decided spending $500-$600 on a NAS was a worthwhile purchase. A friend mentioned that a friend of his had a Drobo that he was happy with and I looked there. I compared features with the QNap and Synology units available at the local retailer and decided a Drobo-5N was just the thing.

I was attracted to:

  • no tools disk install
  • no real need to do administration. Just slide disks in and it figures everything out on its own.
  • availability of plugins
  • industrial design (magnets are what hold the front panel in place)

But mostly, I wanted something that would ‘just work’ and not turn into a hobby. So I bought it, and a couple of 4TB disks and brought it home.

I installed 2 4TB disks, 2 2TB disks and a 1.5TB disk. The lights flashed and all kinds of stuff happened and after installing the Drobo Dashboard software, it all looked cool.

So I went to and selected a few packages. Since I wanted NFS for my Plex server, I installed it, along with ssh, vim, and a couple others. In order to install ssh, there’s some jumping through hoops you have to do with /etc/group, /etc/passwd, and so forth. This is where the problems started.

In short, I bricked the Drobo 5N. I followed the instructions on droboports to the letter but it was dead. I realized I’d screwed up so went with a ‘Factory Reset’ but that didn’t solve the problem. I tried the reset button on the back but all I managed to do was clear out my settings but still it was unhappy and I couldn’t use it. I should mention in all of this that my previously created mountable volume became erased as well. Good thing I’d only copied about 4TB onto it that I still had stored elsewhere. But the act of hitting the ‘Factory Reset’ button causes all of your setup to go away, including your disk volumes.

After a bit of back and forth with front-line tech support wherein all the stuff I’d already tried was suggested, I was referred to second tier support who immediately came back with “reflash your firmware, here’s a link to the image and instructions”… After reflashing the firmware, all was well again.

I rebuilt my volume and got NFS installed. I also tried to install Crashplan by clicking the checkbox in Drobo Dashboard but the installation failed. After some googling, it turns out you have to use Droboports again to install Locale and Java. The side question is: why provide a checkbox to install a package when you still have to do all kinds of commandline installs of dependancies? A bit of false advertising there.

I got my Plex media server to stream off the NFS mounted Drobo volume and everything looked great. I settled in for some well earned TV viewing. About an hour in, the NFS mount stalled and the Drobo seemed to hang. Rebooted the Drobo as well as the Plex media server and tried again. It hung again. I punted and went with an SMB mount. That worked well enough. A little sub-optimal but whatever. I guess this Drobo ports thing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

I went away for a 4 day weekend, and when I came back, the Drobo was bricked again. In short, I couldn’t get it to respond to the Drobo Dashboard app. After starting another tech-support ticket and going through 7 days of back and forth with frontline support, (one exchange per 24 hour period) I was finally referred to second tier support. By this time, I had discovered that if I removed all the disks, I could talk to the Drobo but of course couldn’t do anything. If I re-inserted the disks one by one, I could talk to it until I put the 5th disk in; then it went unresponsive. The love affair was over. It seems as though I lost a disk (the 1.5TB). The disturbing thing is that this is exactly the scenario that prompted me to buy the Drobo. However, even with the 4 original disks, the Drobo was unable to mount the volume. The message was “there are not enough disks to mount the volume – mount failed”… This is not how a NAS is supposed to work. While messing around, I’m still waiting to deal with Tech Support. All of my exchanges with them told me that they’re not capable of reading the ticket so I was asked to try things I’d already tried and itemized in the first message. Remember, each exchange is about 24 hours. After a few days of this, it came down to “Do a Factory Reset and start over”.. In other words, throw away all of my data and recreate the volume. I asked “is there no useful diagnostic information to be gleaned here as to what happened?” … The answer, “maybe. Let me transfer you to second tier support. After a couple of useless exchanges, wherein we were running out of things to try, tech-support went dark. Over 48 hours with no response and a couple of “Hello? Is there anyone there?”, I decided enough was enough, I went back to my retailer to return the unit. They have a 7 day exchange policy but after reading through a transcript of my tech-support tickets, they refunded my money. I got the impression they weren’t surprised, as in this had happened before. I think it’s likely they’re going to drop Drobo.

After some googling, I decided upon a Synology DS414. I brought it home, installed the 4 disks that were previously in my Drobo 5N (leaving out the 1.5TB that conceivably failed) and it’s been trouble free for over a month. In fact, I’ve started migrating services over to the Synology including DNS forwarding, DHCP, and Asterisk. I’ll move my Subversion repository over to it as well, and then I’ll be able to turn off one of the machines in my rack and realize some power savings. The best part is there’s been a relatively steady stream of free firmware updates which address linux security vulnerabilities and a major upgrade with new features. All free!

I did finally hear back from Drobo tech support with a “Sorry about the silence. I was sick and out of the office”. So apparently there’s nobody managing tech-support. Tech support is ‘a guy who responds to tickets’, not a department with a manager who makes sure all tickets get timely responses. When I responded “Too late, I already returned the Drobo and bought a Synology”, the response (the next day) was “Great!” and the ticket was closed with “Solved”.. I was then sent a Support Survey link where I unloaded my mental baggage itemizing my poor experience with their product. Either nobody reads the surveys or they don’t care because nobody ever contacted me. If I was running a small company in a highly competitive consumer electronics vertical market, I’d be right on top of bad survey returns.

Don’t buy a Drobo!

  • Your data is not safe
  • Support sucks

Pretty much the two things you want out of a NAS.