Why I’m not buying a Drobo. Or: How social media influences buying decisions.

OK, I think we all agree that doing backups is a good idea. I’m an amateur photographer, I have a huge MP3 library – days and weeks of my life have surely gone into creating the data that is on my iMac. I was using two 1TB Western Digital MyBook drives connected thorugh Firewire, but unfortunately TimeMachine can’t be configured to write to both drives simultaneously. I was always afraid one of the disks might die and the backups would be gone. I needed something like a RAID.

Being a long term listener of Leo Laporte’s podcasts I couldn’t avoid hearing about Drobo. And I have to say, it sounds really really good – something easy and painless. My only rational fear was that it’s not a standard RAID 1, so if the Drobo itself fails you can’t just pull out the drive and put it into a different case.

Add to that that using discount codes (listening to podcasts CAN save you money) I could get a 4 bay Drobo for a bit more than 200 Euros and I was getting seriously interested.

So I started asking the Google.

Unfortunately I mostly found horror stories, like this one:

(Through the comments I found out that Data Robotics own the domain “drobosucks.com”, which doesn’t really make me confident, either).

Now, of course bloggers like to rant, so the negative experiences are much more likely to end up on the web compared to happy users. Next step: set up a Twitter search and look what people are tweeting about Drobo over a few days.
To my disappointment, 90% were retweets of “retweet and win a Drobo” posts. But then the interesting ones appeared:

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That doesn’t sound good, does it? I mean, I’m happy to live with a few quirks in software, but NOT IN MY BACKUP DEVICE!

Then I stumbled over this site which settled it once and for all: http://amplicate.com/hate/drobo

Oh. My. God.

I ended up buying a Western Digital WDH2NC40000E My Book World Edition II 4TB NAS which sits quietly in my cabinet, backing up to two mirrored 2TB drives in RAID1 configuration via TimeMachine. I found this blog that explains the setup, and I heard nothing bad about the drive so far.

To me this was an example of social media HEAVILY influencing my buying decision. I also posted several tweets asking for people recommending the Drobo but only got sarcastic comments back. Now the only question left to ask is: why do Leo Laporte and his guests promote Drobo that much…?

Would you trust your data to a Drobo?


A Drobo is a kind of storage array that uses standard S-ATA disks. It’s not RAID, they have their own disk management software that makes sure you can just pull any drive and replace it with a bigger one without losing your data.

In contrast to my RAID-1 on the Zyxel NSA-220, this means that you’re 100% dependant on the Drobo not messing up your data. If the Drobo breaks, you will most likely not be able to plug the drives into your PC and get your data (with the NSA-220 you can- standard Linux file system).

It’s worse – it seems that not even Drobo support is convinced of its liability (read the whole article, there’s more interesting stuff in there):

“2) Drobo should not be the only location the data is stored on. Drobo is meant to be a primary or backup location. not both.

3) Drobo can only recover from most hardware error. And improper disconnections are considered user error.”

That is…. confusing…. I would have thought that the Drobo was exactly that – a secure backup system. Doesn’t that make the whole thing useless? What do you think?

Zyxel NSA-220 1TB NAS – ordered

After a lot of research, I finally found a NAS system I might feel comfortable with. I once owned the Linksys NSLU2, but 3 power supplies, drives that can’t spin down when idle and no RAID just didn’t cut it.

This overview about network performance of various drives is a great place to start if you’re looking for a NAS. I started looking into the D-Link DND-323, which seems to be everybody’s darling, and almost bought it.

The Zyxel NSA-220, however, holds the promise of a geek firmware: it already features a bittorrent client, and it also plays well with iTunes.

More details when I had the opportunity to play with it for a while.