Drobo: Its Part In My Downfall

[Update 2008-02-03: read the resolution to this story.]

[Update 2008-01-31: Before you read further, you should be aware that Data Robotics have repudiated everything that their tech support operative said in this thread. Repeat: literally everything that the support op says here is wrong. It is absolutely OK to pull the FireWire cable after unmounting the volumes. Read the followup post.]

I've owned a Drobo for a few months now. This supposed wonder-device has been nothing but trouble. It sounds like a great idea, doesn't it, to have a unit that you can just up-size the drives in on a rolling basis. Unfortunately, in my experience, it's simply not up to scratch.

In particular, I've intermittently experienced a problem with my Drobo where it will fail to mount either of the two volumes on the device. This is what happens:


  • The unit boots up as normal.
  • The four bay lights are steady green, suggesting no problems.
  • The capacity meter shows the expected level of use.
  • Drobo Dashboard can see that there is a unit connected, and reports the correct free space and used space. It also correctly reports the capacity of each drive in each bay, but instead of showing the volume names it says "Unlabeled".
  • Disk Utility sees the device, but no volumes.
  • The drives are constantly thrashing.


The last time this happened, I let it grind away overnight and eventually the volumes came back. Unfortunately this time it seems like nothing will do the trick, so I decided to open a case with Drobo support.

Here is the thread in full, starting with Drobo's reply after I sent them the details above:

Drobo

Hello Fraser Speirs,

Thanks for contacting Drobo tech support.

Question:
My Mac is reporting my Drobo as "Unlabeled". What could cause this?

Answer:
This is a result of the host computer system damaging the file system on Drobo. This is usually from the user improperly disconnecting one of Drobo's cables without first shutting down the computer or putting Drobo to standby using the Drobo Dashboard. Please run file system repair utilities like the Apple Utilities Disk repair, or Alsoft's Disk Warrior, or Tech Tool (free with AppleCare). Disk Warrior and Tech Tool require you to connect the Drobo via USB directly to a port on the back of the computer and boot from the given utilities CD.


Thanks for your time,
Drobo Tech Support - JB


Me

Thanks for the reply. My regular disconnection procedure, which I
follow pretty religiously, is to unmount the volumes on the Drobo,
then pull the FireWire cable. Is this wrong? It was my understanding
that this was the 'manual' standby procedure for people who don't run
Drobo Dashboard.

Can you tell me if a Drobo has any capacity thresholds after which it
does some reorganisation behind the scenes? The last time I saw this
happen was the last time my Drobo hit 80% full.

Thanks,
Fraser


Drobo

Hello Fraser Speirs,

Thanks for contacting Drobo tech support.

If you do not run Drobo Dashboard you will need to shutdown the computer Drobo is connected to before removing cables. Simply ejecting does not put Drobo to standby (orange power light only all others off).

Drobo only reorganizes at 50%. At 80% full the Drobo will just constantly slow down just as all drives due past 80%. To keep Drobo at full performance keep the Drobo at 79% full or less.


Me

Thanks for the reply. This is unfortunate since your advice contradicts the following Drobo document:

http://www.drobo.com/pdf/Drobo-2ndGen-Help_for_Mac.pdf

..which says:

"always properly put Drobo into Standby Mode by safely ejecting your Drobo first. You can do this by dragging the Drobo drive icon from your desktop to the Trash, locating the Drobo icon in the Finder and choosing Eject from the file menu, or clicking on the Standby button located on the Tools Tab of the Advanced Controls Panel" (p22)

That section of the help document says _nothing_ about shutting down the Mac before disconnection. It's really disappointing to have to go and spend a speculative $100 to see if I can get my data back, despite having followed your documentation _to the letter_.

Is there any possibility that the Drobo will recover itself from this? The hard drives sound like they are constantly active. Is it repairing itself?

Fraser


Drobo

Hello Fraser Speirs,

Thanks for contacting Drobo tech support.

1) I will put up a request to have this document edited.

2) Drobo should not be the only location the data is stored on. Drobo is meant to be a primary or backup location. not both.

3) Drobo can only recover from most hardware error. And improper disconnections are considered user error.

Thanks for your time,
Drobo Tech Support - JB


Let me summarise that for you:

"Our documented disconnection procedure will silently corrupt your Drobo. Sorry about that. Hope you have a backup. Also: YOUR FAULT, despite you doing what we said to do."


Fortunately, I do have a backup of the critical things on my Drobo. Unfortunately, I don't think I can trust this device any longer. I'll probably continue to use it for non-critical things - perhaps on my media centre Mac mini as an rsync cache of my iTunes library - but it's hard to have any confidence in the device now. For now, I'm going to move the unit to my Mac Mini and let it thrash away for as long as it wants to see if it will eventually recover itself once more.

Lots of my Twitter friends insist that they've been running Drobos for years on end without a single issue. I don't know if I just have a bad unit or not, since Drobo Support seems intent on blaming my error for this problem.

I'm not writing this primarily to embarrass Data Robotics, Inc. People need to know that their documentation contains a critical data-destroying error.