Back in 2009 I purchased a (second generation) 4 bay Drobo to use as a local backup solution in my office. At the time I put four 1 TB drives in the unit, turned it on, and it has worked reliably ever since. During that five year span one of the original hard drives in the unit did fail (all hard drives will die), but replacing that one bad drive was as easy as ejecting the old drive and popping in a brand new one.
After the Drive Swap…
No data was lost. No downtime. It has pretty much been a set-it-and-forget-it type of system. I have this Drobo connected to my Windows 7 desktop machine and use ViceVersa Pro to perform the regular task of backing up the data from multiple internal and external drives to the Drobo.
Time to upgrade?
I recently realized that my Drobo was getting very low on space. Increasing drive space is as simple as replacing one (or more) of the existing 1 TB drives with a larger capacity drive. After 5 years of continuous uptime I also thought it might be a good idea to upgrade the unit itself while it was still chugging along. Through Photofocus I had the opportunity to try out a third generation 4 bay Drobo to see if it would be a good replacement, and to write about my upgrade experience to help anyone considering a similar move.
The main benefit of this new generation of Drobo is a speed boost due to a faster dual core microprocessor inside the unit and moving up from a USB 2.0 to a USB 3.0 connection. This also gave me added incentive to finally install a USB 3.0 card in my Windows machine. I had two goals for this project. The first was to upgrade to the new Drobo unit and the second was to increase storage capacity (I had two new 3 TB drives standing by).
The Upgrade Process
Upgrading the Drobo was refreshingly easy. The first step was to install the latest version of the Drobo Dashboard software (free download from drobo.com) to my computer, then power down the machine. Once the unit was shut down I simply transferred the four 1 TB drives from my old Drobo to the new one.Man, that old unit was dusty! I guess I set it and forgot it and perhaps should have dusted a bit from time to time.
With the drives transferred over I connected the new Drobo to an existing USB 2.0 port (as I hadn’t gotten the new USB 3.0 card installed yet) and powered up the machine.
The new version of Drobo Dashboard recognized the new Drobo and it was like nothing had changed. It even retained the drive letters I had originally assigned to the 2 partitions on the Drobo. I still had the low space issue, so it was time to increase the amount of storage by swapping out one of the old 1 TB drives for a new 3 TB drive.
The top 1TB drive was lit yellow in Drobo Dashboard and on the Drobo unit itself. This was the drive I needed to change first. Swapping drives was a snap. I just needed to pop the top one out and slide the new 3 TB drive in that slot. I didn’t even need to power down the unit. Once the new drive was in place Drobo Dashboard recognized the new drive and began the process of incorporating it into the system. I figured this would take awhile so it was the last thing I did on that day and just let the process run overnight.
When I came back to it the next morning it had completed the data protection process, but it was still indicating that I was low on protected storage space.
Time to add the second 3 TB drive. The Drobo and the Dashboard software indicated the next drive to replace with a yellow light, and I once again repeated the process of popping out the old 1 TB drive and popping in the new 3 TB drive.
With the increase in storage space Drobo Dashboard indicated that I had enough capacity to create a new volume.
After rebooting the system I assigned a drive letter to the new volume.
The Drobo then formatted the new drive to prepare it for storage.
The last step of the process was to perform the data protection process. I could still access my data and use the system, but I just left it alone until it was done.
A Successful Upgrade Made Better with USB3
At the end of the process I had a newer unit and significantly increased storage. Ill upgrade the remaining 1 TB drives soon since theyve been working hard for several years as it is, and that should give me plenty of storage space to grow into.
In regards to performance improvements, I didn’t see too much of an improvement just with the new unit alone attached to a USB 2 port. Granted this Windows machine is getting a bit long in the tooth too, and was not a state of the art system when I got it (though it fits my needs just fine). I used Blackmagics Disk Speed Test software to measure the read/write time of the old unit on USB 2.0.
I then tested the new unit on that same USB 2.0 connection.
And then tested my internal C drive for comparison.
After installing the USB 3.0 card I connected the new Drobo to a USB 3.0 port and ran the test one last time. I was pleased to see the read/write times on the new Drobo were now on par with my internal drive.
Overall I couldn’t be more pleased at how simple the upgrade process was to perform, and how easy it was to increase storage capacity. It does take some time for the Drobo software to do all the work of moving data around, so I would advise not taking this project on when you are in the middle of your busiest season. If I hadn’t been waiting on the USB 3.0 card to arrive (and install) I could have finished this in a weekend with minimal impact on accessing data.
You Can Save (and Win)
Drobo has provided us with a discount code, HOLIDAYFOCUS, that will save $90 off of purchase of Drobo 5D, 5N, or gen 3 Drobo (that’s the unit I got) if used by midnight December 29, 2014. You can save over 25% off a Drobo gen 3 — price with coupon is $259 vs. normal $349 price.
Contest: If you are feeling lucky you can enter to win a Drobo gen 3 at www.drobo.com/photofocus. You must enter by midnight December 31, 2014. One winner will be picked and notified by email the first week of January.
Rob writes the “Under the Loupe” column for Photoshop User Magazine, and is the author of many photography related books.