Drobo Robotic Disk Array and AirPort Extreme

by Derrick Story

I've been curious about the Drobo Fully Automated SATA Robotic Storage Array and how it might perform on my AirPort Extreme network. if this combination turned out to be practical, I could have 2 Terabytes of hard disk backup storage available to any computer on the 802.11n network. The big question would be speed. How would Drobo's USB 2.0 connector fare when deluged with the onslaught of RAW photos that I accumulate on a weekly basis?

The good news is that Drobo and AirPort Extreme play nice together. I can easily mount the disk array from both my Tiger and Leopard machines. It is the height of convenience. The bad news is, yes, the read/write times are slow. For my various tests, it took 90 minutes to transfer a 14 GB Aperture archive from a FireWire drive (connected to a MacBook Pro) to the Drobo.

There's a nice little discussion about this happening on the Inside Aperture site titled, Alas, No Aperture on my Drobo. And I've featured the Drobo in this week's Digital Story podcast.

My bottom line? Despite the lethargic write speed, I'm really happy to have the Drobo on my network. I have a gigantic image library stored on it that I can browse via Microsoft Expression Media. And I'm currently looking at Port Map and basic Leopard tools for remote access to the drives. i must admit, it's been a fun project.


NK Guy
2008-04-16 07:28:16
The Drobo is indeed an interesting device, but hobbled by its sluggish transfer rates. Whatever you do, don't try to open an Aperture library located on a Drobo (ie: use the Drobo as a primary drive). The wait times will kill you! But as a backup device it's quite reasonable.

Here's a review I wrote from the point of view of a photographer:


David Moon-Wainwright
2008-04-16 10:02:39
Drobo needs a Gigabit port or a Firewire 400/800 port. Until then it isn't even close. I'm going to hang Firewire drives off of a few Macs in the house and then hook up a 4 or 5 disk gigabit Raid NAS unit and do automated backups off the Time Machined Firewire drives to the using SuperDuper or CarbonCopyCloner. A USB Drobo need not apply.
2008-05-29 04:19:56
Its not the USB2 interface that's the bottleneck, its the (lack of) processing power / throughput of the Drobo's software RAID implementation. I carried out an extensive performance test of Drobo units last year with different combinations of drives. Even with 4 drives fitted, my Drobos don't come close to the throughput of a standard USB2-attached single disk drive or read or write operations. As a result, I continue to use simple USB2 disks as primary storage and use the Drobos as data backup units, rather than the other way around. For me the primary advantage of the Drobo is the managed storage capabilities (fault-tolerance, recovery and space expansion) which greatly simplify storage management in a small home/office environment.
Francois Reeves
2008-06-02 03:09:36
For now, I fail to see the difference between attaching a drive to the Extreme and sharing a drive connected to any Mac on the network other than the Extreme being theoretically "on" for a longer period of time. I also ran into authorization problems trying to perform operations as an admin on the Extreme drive, the interface does not relay the login prompt.
Ringo De Smet
2008-06-09 03:39:09
The Drobo was also on my review list some time ago. The main problem however, not specific to the Drobo, is that all these NAS disks give poor AFP support. Eventually, I transformed a Mac Mini to a small server and hooked it up to a Thecus N5200Pro on a Gigabit ethernet network. Studio Network Solutions have a freely available iSCSI initiator package available for Mac OS X (Tiger & Leopard). Here the links to the software and the storage hardware:

GlobalSAN iSCSI Initiator:

Thecus N5200 Pro:

There is even a newer version of the Thecus coming to market, specifically targeted to iSCSI usage, but its almost double the price and the N5200 Pro already performs quite well! It is faster than my Firewire-400 attached external disk!

Paul O'Shea
2008-07-08 16:19:27
Drobo now comes with Firewire so speed issues are all sorted.
2008-07-15 06:55:37
From what I can tell, if you are connecting Drobo to a network -- through DroboShare or Airport Extreme, you have to connect the devices via the USB. Does anyone know of a way to share the Drobo on a network via the Firewire 800 port -- with hopefully faster throughput?