I am one of the aspiring new media yahoos that bought into the fever gripping folks everywhere – the Drobo (a play on words for “data robotics.”) Leo Laporte, Scott Bourne and all of those folks loudly proclaimed about what a fantastic device the Drobo is.
I’m here to tell you it sucks.
Now, first a disclaimer – I’m moaning about the generation 1 Drobo. I know that a 2nd generation Drobo and a DroboPro have both been released and I’m sure they are much better devices – but there are still some serious problems here that you, the prospective buyer, need to be aware of. If that’s you, maybe you can skip down to the bullet list for consideration below.
I purchased a Drobo for use in our studio that is expecting to have terabytes of data and loaded it up with 4 1TB Seagate 7200.11 drives. The Drobo saw them, fired itself up and ran beautifully… or so I thought.
I noticed that the Drobo’s throughput was pretty slow. Oddly slow. No, ridiculously slow. It was so abysmally slow that it was clear from minute one that this thing was only going to be useful for long term storage of archived data or as a Time Machine disk. Okie, so it’s so slow that even as a Time Machine disk it’s problematic, but I suffered through it. I was “feelin’ droovy” like everyone in twit.tv said I would.
At first, the Drobo didn’t indicate there was a drive failure. It suddenly acted like it was out of drive space – at least that’s what it tried to indicate by flashing all four of the drive bays red and green. Uhm, okie. Either I lost all four drives or you’re trying to tell me something.
After a reboot of the Drobo, it told me that one of the drives was just bad. It flagged it with a red light and the software, Drobo Dashboard, informed me as such. (NOTE: If you use Snow Leopard, you can forget about using Drobo Dashboard in the 64-bit kernel as they still haven’t updated it yet. Snow Leopard has only been available to developers for almost a year now, guys). If you want to do anything in regards to checking error messages or updating firmware, you have to use the Drobo Dashboard kids. That means you won’t be using the 64-bit Snow Leopard kernel. Oh well, Drobo’s not the only folks guilty of this oversight.
Anyway, after going back to the 32-bit kernel and checking to see what’s going on, the Drobo was upset about a drive failure. I ordered a replacement drive from Seagate and brought it into the office and replaced the dead one. Drobo then warned me that it couldn’t protect me from hard drive failures because it was rebuilding the array.
…and it was going to take 1,447 hours to rebuild.
What? Yes, that’s right. Better yet, the time to rebuild changed repeatedly. Sometimes it went to 887 hours, then 2,088 hours, then 48 hours, then back to 1,447 hours. Drobo couldn’t make up his mind. The drives were spinning relentlessly. It was beating on the drives so long and so hard that I became concerned after about a week that another drive might fail in the process. Fortunately, I could access the data on the drives and copy it off just in case, so I did so.
It’s been two weeks and the array is still building. It’s also still copying my data off the drive. That copy has been going on for about three days now. I’m sure the data copy isn’t helping the throughput at all, but having my array in a compromised state for two weeks without an accurate time estimate to completion is completely unacceptable.
I started to research what was going on here and noticed that other people around the net were experiencing incredibly bad performance issues as well, especially as it pertains to array rebuild times. The support kb at Drobo says “it can take some time” (not a direct quote), but two weeks is outrageous. Oh yeah, and it’s still not done by the way.
My copy still has about 11 hours left, so hopefully the data will be copied off the Drobo before it dies completely.
I started thinking about the ramifications of this problem and realized that the Drobo wasn’t entirely a good idea. I thought I’d bullet those out for you here.
Drobo uses a proprietary technology that is NOT based on RAID. The proprietary technology has marketing materials on it, but that’s about all you’re going to get. It’s the company’s secret sauce. It’s something akin to ZFS, but all in all, you’re just going to have to trust your data to them.
A key selling point to the Drobo is that this secret sauce allows you to use drives that are varying in capacity and it will squeeze every byte out of it that it can. That’s nice, but the performance of the unit is so poor that I no longer give a shit.
Drobo is very, very proud of their proprietary technology. So much so that they’re willing to charge you a premium for the privilege of using it, even if it is slow.
Drobo performs adequately for almost nothing (other than long-term get-it-out-of-my-site storage) until it has an issue.
If it has an issue, you will not know about it under the 64-bit Snow Leopard kernel, if you’re not within eyeshot of the unit. The Drobo Dashboard can send you alerts. But if you’re using the 64-bit kernel, it’s not going to send you jack. It’ll blink at you from across the table… that’s about it. Hopefully this changes VERY soon.
The company charges a mandatory fee for firmware updates and support. If you don’t pay them a yearly fee, you will not get any support beyond the knowledge base. You also will not get software and firmware upgrades. I realize that charging for support is not an entirely new thing and many companies do it, but paying a fee for firmware updates is insane. (Garmin, I’m looking at you and those maps you want me to buy for the Nuvi, too).
The last bullet sucks so bad that you should stop considering a Drobo purchase.
Drobo is proprietary, expensive and forces a regular maintenance fee upon you. You are handing your data over to an unknown, unproven algorithm. Don’t do that. I shouldn’t have. I need to remember to be skeptical of things like this, stop buying into the hype and stick with a solution that has been proven (also known as RAID).
I ordered a Promise Smartstor DS4600 to replace the Drobo. It’ll do good ol’ RAID5. Once the copy finishes, I’ll be pulling the drives out of the Drobo and putting them into the DS4600. I’ll put the Drobo someplace else… maybe hang it off the server for large archival storage one day when I feed it some more drives. Until then, forget it.
ONE OTHER NOTE: No, I did not call Drobo Support. Perhaps I should have, I don’t know. I’m not sure what I was expecting them to do aside from saying, “Yeah, that will take a while. Sorry buddy!” So I didn’t. Mea Culpa if you want to hold me to that, but I’m sure someone out there understands why I didn’t.
Update: Just in case any of you think I’m off my rocker (which I am, but that’s besides the point) – here’s a screen capture of my Drobo Dashboard. Keep in mind we’re starting on WEEK THREE of the rebuild. Check out the estimated time to completion after two full weeks…
Rather than spend an inordinate amount of time trying to pump out information about Macworld 2009, I thought it would be more appropriate to soak in the entire show and let my brain stew on it a little bit. I twittered the keynote quite a bit, so that was me trying to play journalist. For the rest of the week, I intended to take part in the show and ignore the fact that I was collected information to share.
That way, I could let all of the thoughts and information culminate into a wave of thoughts and impressions to share with you while my wife packs for the trip home. Close your mouth; she likes it that way. She prefers to be the one that packs and organizes for trips like this and she’s damn good at it. I asked if I could help and she said no – it was best to stay out of her way.
I’m not going to bash on the keynote as much as some folks have. I didn’t come to it with unrealistic expectations. I knew to expect an update iLife and iWork suite – how the press sites completely missed this clue I’ll never figure out. The last build of Snow Leopard before the show had all of the iLife apps missing. How much more of a clue do you need? I also expected an updated 17″ Macbook Pro. Steve Jobs had pretty much thrown that secret away with the press event that introduced the unibody Macbooks. This was an easy one to figure out.
So the keynote was underwhelming to most everyone, but fulfilled my expectations nicely. I suppose that’s the reward I get for not having outlandish expectations. I did hope for an updated model of the Apple TV or Mac Mini, but I didn’t have any data to indicate those were in the mix, so I didn’t have my hopes up.
Oh. And the iTunes announcements were neat. I’m glad I can use iTunes again without feeling dirty and resorting to Amazon.
Phil Schiller as a speaker was subdued and nervous. You could hear his voice crackling with pressure. He knew he wasn’t the front billing and was just hoping for a warm welcome. He got a warm welcome, but he was nervous nonetheless. Did this reduce his effectiveness as a speaker? Perhaps. I wouldn’t say he delivered a total mess, but it wasn’t a Steve Jobs reality distortion field.
The proclivity to bite his nails caught up with him at the end when he slipped and mentioned “this last Macworld,” when was he meant to say was, “this last Macworld that Apple will be a part of” or something of that nature. He caught himself – again, you could hear it. His voice crackled with the “Oh shit”‘s one can expect when you’re not a polished stage presenter. I’m sure IDG wasn’t thrilled, given the amount of effort they were outputting to pique your interest in next year.
So yeah, let’s talk about Macworld 2010, since IDG wants us to remember that Macworld will continue on without Apple next year. As a matter of fact, IDG is so visibly nervous about interest waning in their show that banners at every corner enticed you to come back next year, even on the first day of the show. To me, this was the biggest clue that IDG is absolutely terrified. They should be. Not just because of Apple’s desire to back away from this show but because the show itself wasn’t all that interesting. To me, that was the largest death knell. Everywhere you went you could hear people talking about how this was the last show they will be attending.
I’m jumping ahead here too, but this is relevant. Five minutes after I arrived back in my hotel room Friday night, I received an email from IDG begging me to go ahead and register for the Expo next year… and if I did, it was free! Whee! IDG is terrified folks.
Not to mention the rumors now that Apple wants a booth and presence at CES, which goes against their “we just want to get out of trade shows” press release. What this tells me is that there was some kind of cost/value dispute over Macworld and Apple ultimately feels like they no longer need to be a specialized entry in the computing world. They want to play with the big boys now. They want the computing world to be unified, not split over some terrible operating system preference rift. Good for them.
Now that IDG has reminded up that there is a Macworld next year, we can move on to the rest of the show.
Powertools and Conference Sessions
I had a platinum pass, so just like every one platinum pass owner I was completely overbooked on sessions. I sat in on the first session about directory services for the Mac, in particular, the server. It was a decent session, but the first day managed to cover the topic I was interested in. I made plans to attend other sessions and do some show floor walking.
Let’s discuss the platinum pass for a moment, since I brought it up. Why does IDG insist on selling an overpriced pass that completely overbooks you on the conference and sessions? With this pass you have free an unfettered access to almost any conference topic or session, which is fine… however, if you actually try to attend both powertools sessions and a market symposium, your entire agenda is shot. You do not even have time to walk the show floor. That means that eventually you have to skip class just to get out on the floor and see what’s going on with the Expo. I would think that IDG would give platinum pass goers an extra day or extend the evening Expo hours to give those folks some time to walk the floor. Maybe someone brought that up in the town hall session.
Anyway, the sessions were interesting. By far the best talk was Alex Lindsay’s chat on podcasting that lasted most of the day Friday. (@alexlindsay on Twitter). For those of you who don’t know who he is – he is one of the founders of Pixel Corps, a guild of filmmakers and new media masterminds. Alex also works with @leolaporte on the TWiT network producing podcasts like Macbreak and Macbreak Weekly. His speech was outstanding – but the most valuable part was the fact that he was having an open dialogue with his attendees. I got lots of information out of that chat and should Alex ever run across this blog for any reason, he should know that this was just awesome.
Outside of that, the conference sessions were ho hum. There wasn’t much in the way of new information in any of them and the attendance numbers were pretty dull. The chatter on the floor indicated a dull attitude toward the conference sessions as well, unless you went by the Apple booth. The Apple booth certainly had garnered a lot of interest with the new iLife and iWork suites. They had tons of iMacs and Macbooks set up with the new software and one employee at each computer, ready to show you all they had. Oops, I digress, this section is about the powertools and conference sessions.
As far as feature presentations go, Leo Laporte gave a fantasic speech on the state of new media and why old media is dying. My coworker went in to the speech completely skeptical, but by the end of the speech he was totally in line with what Leo was talking about. The turnaround was pretty amazing. If Leo were here, he’d be happy to see that he converted someone to his point of view.
We kept running into Leo Laporte, oddly enough. As fans, we instinctively shouted out his name. At one point, we were sitting at a table and I saw him wander up, looking lost. He was holding a salad. I just suddenly shouted, “Hey Leo!” He spotted us and walked up. My coworker invited him to sit and eat and to my surprise, he did. We sat and geeked out with him for about 20 minutes, having some enlightening conversations about Microsoft and Apple. Leo is a man who gets it. It’s fun to idolize him because he doesn’t seem to mind much.
We managed to see Leo at least two more times. Once as we wandered the show floor we spotted him checking out the SMULE booth. (The Ocarina app is the most incredible application I’ve ever seen, incidentally). Later in the week, we crossed paths with him in the tunnel connecting north and south Moscone. I congratulated him on his fantastic speech that morning and he seemed rather appreciative.
Between talking to Leo Laporte and Alex Lindsay, two heroes of mine in the new media space, it was like a dream come true.
iPhone Case World
As far as the show floor went, Apple owned the north hall. Without their presence next year, Macworld will probably be able to squeeze into a single event hall. Seriously. They had a huge contingent of computers and employees there demonstrating iLife and iWork. Good for them.
The rest of the show floor was really underwhelming. Everywhere you looked, some new company was coming out with a new case for iPods or the iPhone. Srsly. That was about it. There were some great show buys that I immediately picked up on – a 30% discount on Omni products, a 10% discount on Delicious Library 2, but by and large there were only two stories on the show floor: iPhone/iPod cases and gadgets and the complete surprise of geotagging suddenly becoming important.
That’s right. Nikon and Canon were completely thrilled about the geotagging support being added to iPhoto. Not. Both booths said everyone was now asking for geotagging support in the cameras because of this but they were completely unprepared. The Canon booth was even worse about this topic – they were downright combative about the subject. When we asked if any of their cameras supported geotagging, they said, “Why do you ask?” We looked at them as though they had turkeys on their heads. The Canon rep continued, “Just because iPhoto has it? What makes that useful?” We still stood there, speechless. Finally, he seemed to relent a little bit. “No, seriously, Canon would like to know if you want this and how much you’re willing to pay for it.” Okie, that’s a decent question, but his delivery could use some work. So it seems Apple is ahead of the game again – no one is ready to do geotagging as part of the full camera gadget just yet. Buyer beware.
That about covers the show as I saw it. We’re packing up to head home, but I don’t think I’ll be coming back to another Macworld. I’ll make an effort for WWDC, but if Apple thinks that CES is the place to go and Macworld isn’t, then I suspect that’s where the flock will go next as well.
IDG blew something. I’m not sure what it was, but they blew it. You could feel that evidence everywhere.
I see it happen every day. There’s a cast of characters out there – Leo Laporte, Chris Pirillo, Jason Calacanis, John Dvorak, Robert Scoble (whom I absolutely DESPISE because of that “I’m the man!” snapshot on his blog… makes me want to beat him with his fucking tripod)… a whole elite clique of cynical blog/journalists who bring up topics and lead folks around them.
The listeners (and I admit, I’m one of them) follow them from point A to point B every morning, midday and afternoon. It can be a link they found, a story they found, what have you. Now take these salt shakers and add the wire press (Reuters, Associated Press, etc.) and you have the flock.
I started thinking about this tonight while listening to John Dvorak’s Tech5 podcast. One regular complaint of Mr. Dvorak is the redundancy in the news business today. One story gets picked up by a wire service and it explodes all over the net with thousands of redundant postings. Add the Cynic Clique into the mix and then you’ve grabbed their listeners to comment on the stories at whatever social network has the spotlight today.
Web 2.0 and social networking is likely to fail. There is an enormous amount of time and originality being wasted here on a daily basis. I’m starting to wonder when people move on.