I thought that Drobo would be a great solution in terms of data storage and reliability, unfortunately reality was very different to my expectations. But let’s take things from the start. Like any other person with drives nearly full of photos, videos and music, I decided it was time to step up my storage and backup game and go for something serious. Drobo has always been in my sights, I admired how their drives worked with any mix of drives and how flexibly they dealt with drive replacements and drive management in general. I am writing this post because my experience with Drobo was anything but trouble free, quite the opposite…
I decided to go for the Drobo 5c as any Ethernet solution would be slower and I only use one computer for all my photo storage and editing. I also went for two WD Red 4TB drives as they were recommended for the particular brand and are well suited to NAS type applications, intending to add more drives in the near future. I installed everything and things looked great for four days. And then everything went completely wrong.
The Drobo 5c indicated that the drive in slot 2 was malfunctioning. I though, oh well, bad luck, it happens with drives. I bought a new WD Red 4TB drive and followed all Drobo support instructions. Nothing worked and so I contacted support again. They read the diagnostic file from my machine and decided that it needed replacement. The second machine arrived and again I followed all instructions to the letter. Same story. Continuous errors and machine restarts that lasted for hours and hours because the Drobo 5c was trying to rebuild data in the second drive. Similarly after many fresh starts, formats and trials with a third drive.
It was all very frustrating because I relied on my new purchase to do work, in the meantime wasting not hours and days, but weeks of my precious time. Drobo support was friendly and helpful but there was no availability of live chat or a telephone helpline. Answer times to my messages varied from a few minutes to 24 hours, next day answers being the norm rather than the exception. I felt helpless. Finally, I decided that there are two possibilities. I either bought a piece of junk, or I was terribly unlucky. From the fact that I tried two units under optimal conditions, I veer towards the first possibility.
I think real life testing is the brutal true picture. Maybe others are having a wonderful time with their Drobos, for me however it has only been a source of inexplicable problems. Drobo took the second unit back and refunded me, however the hard fact of life was that I wasted a lot of time and I now had to find another option. Also, I realized that having a high capacity storage unit that can contain tens of TB of data is nowhere near perfect, as it can fail and has to obviously be backed up as well with a second physical unit of similar capacity… At this stage I am lucky to be able to fit my critical stuff on a single external drive that I can easily back up.
The corollary? When I buy a storage solution (especially with simple connectivity like the Drobo 5c) I expect it to work flawlessly and to continue to do so for a very long time. Anything else is unacceptable. I do not want to do endless troubleshooting and trials, this is not my work or responsibility and in the particular case it belongs in the workspace of Drobo’s development and support people. And this applies to every vendor not just Drobo. As for the later, I wish them good luck and hope for their own good that my particular case is the exception rather than the rule. Fortunately, the storage and backup sector is incredibly diverse and competitive so many alternatives are wide open.