Drobo FS

Finally able to get my Drobo FS!  FedEx didn’t leave the little delivery notice to sign, so I had to drive 30 miles away to go pick it up or wait until they try again next week.   I’ve wanted a standalone NAS for a long time and I’ve been interested in the Drobo since a friend at work told me about the original (direct attached, not NAS) model.

Ok, I should note that I work in Tech Support for a software company.  A few of my criticisms or commiserations may be based on this.

Current Storage

Old computer with degraded RAID5 array

New computer will be only SSD... let Drobo handle the storage.

My current storage situation is that I have a 4 x 500Gb RAID5 array on the motherboard (DFI LanParty NForce 590) of a computer I built at the end of 2006.  One of those drives died and was RMA’d a few months ago.  Then the replacement died while I was waiting for my Drobo to arrive (RMA in progress).  So the array is hanging in there in a degraded state with three drives.  There is also a 1TB drive on that system and a 1Tb drive on my current system (built Jan 2010).  I’ll need to shift files around to be able to move empty drives to the Drobo.  My plan is to clear the 1Tb drive of my current system and start the Drobo with that.  Then I can move some files over to make enough space to clear another drive, etc.  I’ll need to be able to move 1.1Tb elsewhere before I can take apart the array and move those three drives into the Drobo.

Unboxing

Anticipation was already high as it was a new tech toy I had wanted for a long time.  The packaging sustained this feeling as I opened the outer shipping box to be greeted with the words “Welcome to the world of…”.   Lifting the flap of the inner box revealed the white on black distinctive drobo lettering.  Packaging may not be a huge deal, but it is a nice first impression.

The simple instructions underneath suggest that I 1.Install Dashboard, 2. Insert Drives, 3. Connect Cables.  One minor concern is that it says to start with at least two drives.  I”m pretty sure this is just because you need more than one to to protect against a drive failure.  The Drobo Calculator (http://www.drobo.com/calculator/drobo-s/index.php) and a KB article (http://support.datarobotics.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/276) suggest that it will function with one.

This inner box I’ve described contains the CD and the User Guide on the left and the power cord on the right.  There is a 6′ Cat 6 cable underneath the User Guide.  Removing this inner box reveals the actual device, well protected by foam.

Installing the Dashboard

I took a detour and registered my Drobo from the CD’s link.  I was surprised to see that they didn’t have Windows 7 listed on their question of which OS it would be used with.  I chose Other and typed Windows 7.  Not all that important, but those are the kind of oversights that would bother me in my job.

Then I figured I would check their support downloads to install the latest version from there.  I was surprised that it said Drobo FS users should install from the included disk and to contact support if you didn’t have it.  This is, of course, the perspective of someone who works in Support, but the latest installations should always be available on the website, even if there are no updates to what shipped.

Proceding with the install from the CD was uneventful.  Finishing the install opens the Dashboard with the flashing Drobo logo: “Ready for Connection”.  Time to get the physical device going.

It occurs to me at this point that I’ll need to shut down this computer to get my starting drive out.  With greater worry it occurs to me that the music is playing off  of this drive.  Panic subsiding, I realize I could get out my netbook and stream music from the copy I’ve made on my existing RAID array on another computer.  It’s good to have computers lying around everywhere.

Setup

Ok, got my 1Tb drive out.  It clicked into the Drobo very easily.  I wedged it in between my Wii and my roommate’s Xbox.  Clicking the Cat6 cable into the last open port in the switch in this room makes me think I should have gone with the 8 port instead of the 4.  Plugging in the power I expect it to spring to life…  Ah, power button.  Ok, now I get the full light show.  Green, blue, orange/yellow.  It does a crazy dance for a bit then settles on one green one red.  My first thought is “Hard drive Christmas!”  But less jolly is the suggestion that lights seem to be insisting I insert a second drive.  As I mentioned above, I had the impression that I could start with one, which would make my data shifting much easier.

Looking at the Drobo Dashboard, it is still blinking “Ready for Connection.”  Looking back at the picture I took of the bottom of the Drobo (hey, I’m in my chair the Drobo is allll the way over there), I match the MAC address and see that my router has assigned it an IP.

Unnecessary Tech Details and Reorganization

Since Drobo Dashboard disappointingly isn’t seeing anything (Yes, I’ve exited from the system tray and restarted it), I try navigating via IP and find that 192.168.0.145Public contains the zero byte file “.com.apple.timemachine.supported”.   Supporting backups via TimeMachine is cool, but I’m not an Apple guy, so my joy is limited.  For kicks I try creating a new text file.  Yes, it appears that I can write to the share.  I’m just a little concerned that copying data may be risky if I’ve only got one drive and the Dashboard doesn’t recognize it yet.  Ok, I think even if I assume it is fine, the calculator suggests it reserves half of it.  So that’s like 465Gb free space there.  The other Tb drive now has about 900Gb that would need to be cleared before use…  I think this means I’ll need to delete some stuff and start some big file moves then let that go overnight.  I’ll move about half on to an external 500Gb drive and the other half on to the RAID array which will shortly after have to be moved back off.

It’s data tetris!

…Upon waking up I see Windows wants to know if I know that moving the files means they won’t be shared any more.  Damnit.  So now some more waiting as files transfer.

Dashboard and Second drive

Turned off windows firewall and now the Dashboard sees the Drobo.  Not sure why it didn’t show a warning that it blocked it.  It prompts you to set the admin password and you can enable DroboApps in the same place.

Putting in the second drive started the green yellow blinky dance and the data protection status on the Dashboard suggested it would take about 15 minutes.  I was able to read and write to the drives at this point, and a quick file copy showed 34Mb/s write, 40Mb/s read.

When it finished I started mass transferring files.  Over time the speed fell to 26Mb/s.  After enabling jumbo frames (9K), which required a restart, sustained transfer stayed at 31Mb/s.

DroboApps

Before restarting to enable Jumbo frames, I also installed some of the DroboApps: http://www.drobo.com/droboapps/apps-for-drobofs.php.  You just drop the tgz in the DroboApps share.  The fact that you need to restart doesn’t seem necessary.  Maybe all it does on restart is unzip them.

I installed DroboAdmin (nicer management of apps), Apache (which I’m pleased has PHP built in), CTorrent (Command line torrent client), Dropbear SSH, and Wake on LAN.

I used Putty to SSH into the Drobo and look around.  I’m not great with nix comands, but still it’s cool to have access.  CTorrent didn’t seem to work.  I don’t know how much I’d want to use that over command line anyway, but it seemed worth trying.  Wake on LAN looks like it might be fun to add to a cronjob…  I don’t think my current computer’s bios has a setting to turn on at a certain time, so I might have the Drobo do it via WOL.

DroboCopy

DroboCopy is a part of the Dashboard software worth mentioning.  It lets you schedule simple mirroring/copying between directories.  Some people might want a more elaborate kind of backup, but for me, this is exactly what I want and this saves me the extra bit of effort of using separate software.

Pulling Out a Drive

I was wondering if there was anything else I should add here, then I had an idea.  It was the same kind of “I wonder if it’s hot?” idea as the many times I’ve burned my hands.  The whole point of this thing is to handle drive failures, so how about I pull one out with my file transfer still going.

I pushed the release and the lights started yelling at me in orange and red.  I looked at my file transfer: it didn’t even slow down.  The Dashboard software popped up a notification letting me know that it can’t protect against failure with only one drive.

The speed dropped some when I put the drive back in, but that makes sense.  It needs to do the the green/yellow dance for a few minutes to get caught up.  Although I’m wondering if I should cancel the file transfer until if finishes… the time estimate has gone from 2 to 3 to 4 minutes.  Ok, it went to 5 minutes now, so I’m going to cancel the file transfer and let it finish.  I would have hoped it could have handled that, but it looks like you can transfer data faster than it can catch up on replication.  Still it’s not a bad idea to just let it finish before continuing to transfer data.  And this would only be a issue during sustained mass transfer while a drive is put in.

Separate Shares

I created a share specific to myself for some stuff, then left the public one for everything else.  DroboApps are also mounted as a share.  I had an issue where it tried to map a share over and over until all letters were taken.  I unmapped them manually then restarted the Dashboard and then it was fine.

Final Thoughts

I still have a lot of waiting to do as things copy over.  And I still have to play more data tetris before I can break my RAID5.  Ah, I should mention that it is pretty quiet.  It isn’t inaudible, but it is quieter than other electronics in the same room, so I’ll never hear it.

I’m sure I’ll play with apps more later, but for the most part I’m going to just enjoy having a unified file share independant from any of my computers with zero configuration redundancy.

…I meant to edit and post this a month ago.  Oh well.

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