Today, after many long years of faithful service, I decommissioned my Drobo and removed it from my workflow. The company is disappearing and it’s not working properly with the latest macOS. It sucks, because this was something that, when it first was announced, was unbelievably cool, but it seems like its time is over now.
How It Started
Based on my journal, my first Drobo was purchased somewhere between May and November 2008. This was the first generation 4 disk version. Over the years I upgraded to the 5 bay Drobo-S and then got a newer USB-3 version via Craigslist.
At the time I was running an ugly mix of EVMS, LVM, and RAID. In 2008 a lot of the linux drive and storage tech was still evolving and I’m sure I was basically upgrading and playing with whatever was there without a lot of consideration for keeping my file share stable.
When the Drobo appeared on the scene it was amazing.
- It implemented “beyond RAID” and with it you could mix and match any size drives. With normal RAID you had to use disks of all the same size.
- You could upgrade any of the drives to another drive of a different size by just removing it and putting it back in. At the time normal RAID upgrading was definitely way more complicated than this.
Being able to just buy a bigger drive and then swap out a drive, wait a bit while things were all synchronized and have your storage expand was magical.
This wasn’t a commercial solution at the time, big businesses would still use “real” RAID solutions, but for the home, especially for photographers of videographers this was revolutionary.
Sadly as time went on the limitations of the Drobo (this was the Drobo 5D) became more obvious. Mostly dealing with large camera files I was finding the USB-3 connection was slow, and the Drobo moved from “hot” storage use to “warm” (there but only so the files could be seen, not worked on).
In the last couple of years it was moved to pure archive. I was using Carbon Copy Cloner (Mac backup software) to backup documents and photos to the Drobo, and was rarely (if ever) actually accessing files on it. It was also noisy, constantly running right in my line of sight on the shelf behind my monitor, and seemed like it was just collecting dust.
Then Data Robotics announced that Drobo’s wouldn’t be compatible with the latest macOS. When you see this posted on their site confidence in the product and company get pretty low:
We have done minimal testing with Drobo & Ventura, support for macOS Ventura will also be Limited. Before updating, please ensure you have a backup of all the data on Drobo, then shutdown the Drobo before upgrading to any new or updated OS.https://myproducts.drobo.com/retrieve/s3/knowledge/AA/macOS%20Ventura.html
My understanding is that to make the Drobo run properly in macOS, the Drobo had to have drivers which were installed into kernel space. A couple of versions ago Apple announced that the ability to do this was going to be deprecated and replaced by a newer/better/safer way to do it by having user space kernel modules. Or something like that.
The TLDR of it is that Apple changed how they were allowing programs to do something Drobo was doing. Drobo had years to move to the new way of doing it and didn’t.
Of course, Data Robotics filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy mid-last year probably was an indication that that they had more pressing things on their mind than rewriting drivers.
Slowly Breaking Down
Either when I went from intel to Apple Silicon, or with the last OS update (or the one before that), my Drobo has been doing, and this is the technical term, “weird shit”. It would randomly disconnect as if the cable had been pulled out (sometimes resulting in me having to close many “eject your disk before disconnecting” notifications), and sometimes would go read-only.
In the current version (on an M1 based Mac Studio running macOS 13.3) the Drobo will connect, Drobo Dashboard will detect the Drobo, and I can copy files onto and off of it…. for a bit. Files will copy and folders can be created, but then it shows as read only. Sometimes the folders and files are actually created and show up later, sometimes not (maybe a macOS caching thing?).
Regardless, working for copying files 1 out of 10 times isn’t something I’m going to trust 🙁
No idea why this is feeling so dramatic. Probably one post a year is the reason. I did try to copy the files on it off. They were backups but just in case I figured why not keep them if I have the space over on my NAS. To replicate the backup functionality, I copied over what I had and re-set up the backup jobs to point to the NAS instead.
The Drobo actually had a failed drive, so it was running on 4 out of 5 drives anyway. I was selling my old Synology and one of its drives had failed, so I had to pull a second drive to put that into that before the guy picked it up, so that completely broke the array (not a problem since the data’s already pulled off).
So now the Drobo is on Craigslist for sale, and if someone wants I’ll put the couple of spare drives I have into it so they can buy it non-naked. Other than the company not having support you can rely on, it should work fine under Windows.
Sadly that’s the end of the line. The Drobo and the idea of the “Data Robot” that appeared as a fairly revolutionary idea in 2008 has served me well over the last 25 (!!!!!!!) years. It’s still something that I think has a place. A NAS is still more complex than most people need, but people who work with large files also want a simple box they can plug in that’s like an external hard drive, but is expandable. I have no idea what that is or if something is already out there.