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Drobo FS – benchmark and review

I have been searching Google up and down just to find some benchmark values for the Drobo and they have been sparse to non existent. Those numbers that exist are either the unverified numbers from Data Robotics 30-40MB/s or those non scientific stopwatch tests without mentioning further setup specs. Altogether this is pretty disappointing.

I already own a Drobo 2nd gen connected via Firewire 800 and today (05/31/2010) I have ordered a Drobo FS which I thoroughly will put through its paces. I will post all specs for my setup as well as the benchmark I am using so that everyone can compare his/her results.

While the BeyondRAID technology always was one of the main points to get a Drobo, the performance was far from stellar. The Drobo FS promises to have improvements for this issue. I get around 11-14 MB/s from my Drobo 2nd gen via FW 800 and I seriously hope that the numbers from Data Robotics for the Drobo FS hold true.

Update: If you can enable jumbo frames you get a better performance. Unfortunately Apple failed with the latest iMac Core i7 and Core i5 (late 2009) in not having jumbo frame support!

Update 2 (01/27/2011): As I stated in the beginning of the article I didn’t want to do non scientific stopwatch tests, because these wouldn’t be comparable. But here are some actual stopwatch results. My Drobo FS is now at 68% capacity (1.77 TB, 3x 1 TB disks), I’m running Drobo FS firmware  1.1.1 [7.12.3468] and my OS X version is 10.6.6. I’ve copied a 4.07 GB disk image to my Drobo FS, it takes 150 seconds to complete that’s an average transfer rate of 27.78 MB/s in write speed. If I copy this file from my Drobo FS to my iMac it completes in 103 seconds giving me an average read speed of 40.46 MB/sec.

For those of you who just want the results, here is a chart with the results.

Drobo FS, Drobo 2nd gen Benchmark results

Read on for more details:

Test Setup

  • 27″ iMac Core i7 2.8 GHz (iMac11,1), 8 GB RAM DDR3 (1067 Mhz), Seagate 1 TB HDD 7200 rpm (ST31000528ASQ)
  • Drobo 2nd gen, connected via Firewire 800, Drobo Dashboard 1.6.8, Drobo Firmware 1.3.6
  • Drobo-FS, Drobo Dashboard 1.7.2, Drobo FS Firmware 1.0.4
  • Gigabit-LAN, Cat5e cabling, Cisco SLM2008 Gigabit switch
  • for both Drobos: 3x Seagate Barracuda 1 TB HDD 7200 rpm 32 MB cache (ST31000333AS)

For benchmarking I am using the AJA System Test v 6.01 as recommended by Data robotics.

AJA System Test settings

I used the settings Data Robotics recommends, which are 1.0 GB file size, disabled file system cache, Video Frame Size 1920×1080 10-bit, File I/O API: Unix (pay attention to this!), round frame sizes to 4 KB and enable network volumes.

AJA Benchmark Settings

AJA Benchmark Preferences

First of all I benchmarked my network performance just to make sure my network is not a bottleneck. For this I started the benchmark on a second iMac (Core2Duo 3.06 Ghz, 4GB RAM, GBit LAN) and connected to my Core i7 iMac’s Seagate 1 TB HDD. Results over my local network were at 73.3 MB/s for write and 110.0 MB/s for read speed.

Local Network Performance

Drobo 2nd gen benchmark

Then I did some tests with my existing Drobo 2nd gen. I benchmarked it with about 60% disk usage and after I had reset the unit and its disks. Write and read speed where both at 14.3 MB/s which looks like there is some limitation in the Drobo hardware because usually the read speed should be higher than the write speed.

After the Drobo reset I got much better results. The write speed is now at 29.5 MB/s and read speed 34.3 MB/s. So it looks like the performance is significantly dropping the more data the Drobo holds. One thing I noticed is that in the Drobo Dashboard before it said „Drobo“ and after the reset it says„ Drobo disk pack“. I am not sure if this is anything performance related, just did not want to let unmentioned.

Drobo 2nd Gen 60 Percent Capacity

Drobo 2nd Gen 60 Percent Capacity Benchmark

Drobo 2nd Gen Empty Disk

Drobo 2nd Gen Empty Disk Benchmark

Drobo FS benchmark

The Drobo FS features 5 instead of 4 drive slots compared to the Drobo 2nd gen and it should contain beefier hardware since it sports a Gigabit LAN connection and supports Drobo apps. Data Robotics set expectations pretty low with a mentioned performance of 30-40 MB/s which already was in the range of the Drobo 2nd gen.

I had hoped for a little bit better benchmark values especially since the Drobo FS is a brand new Summer 2010 product from Data Robotics and the Drobo 2nd gen was released in Summer 2008. So there are two years room for their technology to improve.

Now on to the results. The empty Drobo FS had an AJA System Test result of 27.3 MB/s write and 39.7 MB/s read speed. While these results are nearly within the promised range from Data Robotics, the write speed is still somewhat disappointing given that the empty Drobo 2nd gen scored higher write values, a product which is over two years older.

I’ve also benchmarked the Drobo FS at 40% capacity, this should be enough to get some real world results to compare it to the empty Drobo FS. Here is the interesting bit, while the Drobo 2nd gen drops in performance if it contains more data it looks like Drobo FS is able to deliver a more constant performance. At 40% capacity the Drobo FS delivers a write speed of 26.7 MB/s and a read speed 39.1 MB/s.

Drobo FS Empty Disk

Drobo FS Empty Disk Benchmark

Drobo FS 40% Capacity

Drobo FS 40% Capacity Benchmark

Final thoughts

So was it all worth it? Well it depends, like always, if your main focus is speed then the Drobo FS is not the fastest NAS device you can get at this price range. The Qnap Turbo Station TS-509 Pro has much better performance at nearly the same price.

Why did I choose the Drobo FS? Well I have a business to run and while I am very techie I still do not want to spend more time than needed. The Drobo FS is a dead simple plug it in and get back to business solution. No bothersome configuration of IP addresses, formatting, choosing RAID-levels and expansion is as easy as pushing the next HDD in. It just works, out of the box with no hassles. The Drobo FS  is a second to none solution and excels at this.

Since I am an avid Mac user there is a second to none feature and that is Time Machine integration. Since firmware 1.04 the Drobo FS supports Time Machine volumes out of the box. Setup is dead simple, create a share, set a size limit for the Time Machine volume, let the Drobo Dashboard connect the volume and see Time Machine do its job.

Here is what I would like to see improved. While the performance of the Drobo FS is much more constant than the Drobo 2nd gen there is still a lot room for improvement. The write speed is not within the promised 30-40 MB/s, while it is no dealbreaker it is still not something I am really happy about. I do not know if  the hardware is not capable of delivering better performance or if the BeyondRAID technology is not yet optimized enough for delivering better performance.

While  I like the idea of the DroboApps there are not many really useful apps out there. Other NAS vendors have much more capable solutions. Apache without PHP and MySQL is not very useful, I could not even host a wiki on it. Since the performance is not up to par with the competition I am a bit doubtful if the Drobo has enough spare power to really host additional applications and still maintain its performance. For example a VPN-server, a Dropbox integration with selective folders would be something that would be highly welcomed. But both applications would surely need some CPU power. I am also looking ahead for the mysterious Oxygen cloud integration for the Drobo FS.

So for whom is the Drobo FS? It is for people who want an expandable storage solution that grows with their business It is for people who need a central shared storage for exchanging files and don’t want to buy a server just for doing so. It is for people who want a physically more secure Time Machine solution than a single external HDD. It is for people who want to focus on their business and not on how to maintain their IT.

Let me emphasize on this, Data Robotics BeyondRAID technology is something I have yet to see a match for, you always get the best solution with the HDDs you currently have. If you add more disks BeyondRAID adapts to it and you can switch between single and dual disk redundancy on the fly. So surely this is something everyone wants but would want let someone else worry about the details, which is what Data Robotics can deliver.

Update: Jumbo frames

Since I got asked in the comments if I could test the Drobo FS with jumbo frames, I did so. But, and this is really disappointing from Apple, all iMac Core i5 and i7 owners are left in the dust. Why you ask? Because Apple chose to use a network chip that does not support jumbo frames or at least did not enable it!

I have to do justice to Data Robotics if you enable jumbo frames on your NIC and switch you can achieve higher transfer rates. Write speed is at 34.8 MB/s and read speed at 44.3 MB/s if you can enable jumbo frames for all network components.

Drobo FS Jumbo Frames Enabled

21 Responses to “Drobo FS – benchmark and review”

  1. [...] to share the Drobo magic with multiple computers, but just how well does it perform?  New owner Timon Royer wasn’t content with Data Robotics’ own “30-40MB/s” figures, and so he [...]

  2. Tim says:

    Are you planning on testing with Jumbo Frames enabled at all? According to DR it should be even faster.

  3. Stephen DeNagy says:

    Great review! I’m a long-time Mac user as well. How do you enable “Jumbo Frames” if I may ask? If the iMacs are crippled, is it so with MacBook Pros? You are so right…there is a dearth of benchmarking info out there.I’m struggling with whether to go NAS route or DAS for my TB photo collection. USB is slow, and FW isn’t a whole lot better when you have several mixed drives attached, some at 400, some 800. But even storing the Lightroom vault on my primary computer will still commit many, many hours of preview building at these speeds! Thanks!

  4. TR says:

    Hi Stephen,
    you need to enable jumbo frames on all devices Mac, switch and Drobo FS also all devices in the network should support jumbo frames otherwise there’s no advantage in activating them because performance is degraded for non jumbo frame devices.

    This is how you enable jumbo frames on OS X: Go to system preferences -> network -> ethernet -> advanced -> ethernet. Then set config to manual and change the MTU to Jumbo (9000).

    Cheers,
    Timon

  5. JC says:

    For for anyone considering a Drobo FS as more than a home solution, I would strongly suggest that you create an account for the community forums and read some posts first. Personally, I have waited since 2007 for the NAS version to be released and now that I have one I am thoroughly disappointed with it because of a issues including one that is a so called *feature*.

    First, the Drobo FS has a small issue that it’s disks do not spin down when idle. It has a nice setting to control this; however, it doesn’t work. DRI knows about this issue and have yet to release any fix. If you ask me, I think this is something that should have been found by their quality assurance process before they released it and asked people to pay over $600 for it. Anyone wonder why they sell WD Green drives with it….I wonder if it’s because they never stop spinning and it’s easier to sell low energy drives than to fix the device??

    Second, the Drobo FS has a *feature* that anytime you reboot the device it regenerates the user/password files. Why is this an issue? The default password for the root user is “root”, so any drobo that enabled ssh is pretty much a security risk. After weeks of arguing with DRI about this *feature* which is deemed unsupported because Drobo Apps are technically unsupported, they released an updated dropbear droboapp which includes a special script to *set* the root password so it doesn’t reset during reboots. It was a nice try, but doesn’t really solve the issue because someone who doesn’t really know about the issue would never know to use this script instead of using passwd. Worst of all, if you use the underlying linux system to add users to your drobo for use with the drobo apps, the users are deleted on reboot. I wonder what other hidden *features* the Drobo FS has in store for its users, only time will tell?

    The reply from DRI support is that “Drobo Apps are unsupported and your using this is at your own risk.” and my reply would be that “the use of the Drobo FS as more than an expensive paper weight is at your own risk!”.

    So in summary, the Drobo FS is nothing more than a super expensive toy for home use!! Oh yea, and DRI markets Drobo Apps as a means to compete with every other NAS that has built in features that exceed the Drobo FS but if you use it you are not supported and half of them don’t work anyway.

    Should I mention that UPNP/DLNA support is not really true since these drobo apps are a complete pain to setup and configure and forget about asking support for help because “Drobo Apps are not supported!”.

    I consider my purchase a waste of money and time and i’m going back to my DLink which actually works. Sure it doesn’t work perfectly and do everything I want, but it does what is expected and didn’t cost me a monthly rent payment to buy it.

  6. TR says:

    Hi JC,
    thanks for your comment. The disk do spin down actually, I’ve tested this this morning, just the fans of the Drobo itself don’t shut down.

    DroboApps could be a lot better, but like I wrote I’m not sure if there’s enough performance left for such services to run smoothly.

    If you bought it solely for the apps I can understand your opinion though this is something that was foreseeable since there aren’t many apps available. I bought the Drobo for its BeyondRAID technology and that it now has a decent network connection.

    The only thing that is still nagging me is the fan noise (contacted Data Robotics about this) and the jumbo frames issue, but that is Apple’s fault.

  7. Mark says:

    Hi Timon
    Thanks for taking the time to post this.
    Do you know of anyway of running MySql on the Drobo FS, could it be run under WAMP for example, I’m just looking for a test and development platform and combining it with a decent storage platform could help me justify the cost?
    Looking at what is on the drobo apps site it looks like you can run Apache and php but no mention of MySql.
    Thanks again.
    Mark

  8. TR says:

    Hi Mark,
    first there’s no MySQL support, second it’s probably for a good reason. The Drobo FS doesn’t have a lot of spare resources, so MySQL isn’t a viable option. The justification for the cost of the Drobo lie in its BeyondRAID technology which helps you to grow the storage space as needed and do so in a very comfortable way. Otherwise get one of Synology’s Disk Station products. Though personally I would use WAMP or MAMP on a local system for developing. Even the cheapest Windows PCs or Macs have a lot more power than any of the NAS-devices.

    Cheers,
    Timon

  9. Matt says:

    Hi Timon,
    Thanks for taking the time to put the stats together, great article.

    I’ve just got a Drobo FS and new Mac Mini.
    The Mac Mini claims to support Jumbo Frames but I’m yet to test this…

    Did you have to do anything to enable Jumbo Frame support on the Drobo FS?

    I’ll try to do as you did with the benchmarks but can’t find AJA System Test v 6.01.. is it a purchased product?

    Thanks

  10. TR says:

    Hey Matt,
    if Apple says it support jumbo frames like it does for the latest Mac mini, then it is supported. You enable the jumbo frames for the Drobo FS by going to the Drobo Dashboard under Advanced Controls / Tools Tab / Settings / Network Tab and there you can set the MTU size to 9000 to enable jumbo frames. Don’t forget to do the same thing for your Mac mini and any router/switch inbetween, otherwise it will have a negative effect on the performance.

    AJA has moved their download site, the link in the article has been updated to point to the new location. The tool itself is free.

    Cheers,
    Timon

  11. Jannis says:

    Hi, thanks for the detailed review.

    I have been looking for a decent review of this relatively new Drobo for a while and you have pretty much answered all questions in wonderful detail.

    The one question that remains for me is the fan noise of the unit.

    You mention that you are still not happy with it? How loud is it? Perhaps not scientifically but in comparison to other devices (Mac Pro fan noise, Playstation 3 fans, etc..).

    The reason this is of particular interest to me is that in my setup this device would sit about 4 meters away from my bed, so with it running 24×7 I’d like to still be able to sleep in its proximity without being annoyed by the fans running.

    Many thanks,
    Jannis

  12. TR says:

    Hi Jannis,
    is there any special reason why you want the Drobo FS to be running 24×7? I can only compare the noise to my 27″ iMac and the Drobo is much noisier. I would rate the iMac as near silent so that I can sleep even when it’s running. The Drobo FS is definitely something I don’t want to have in my bedroom, that’s why I moved it into my living room. If you only have it running in the day time the noise might be acceptable, though since I’m used to the near silent iMacs it’s something that I would avoid having near me all day long.

    Cheers,
    Timon

  13. Al says:

    Thanks for the review!

    Have you tried running multiple Time Machine backups? The answer I can’t get is whether I can setup multiple backup areas so that the various Mac’s at my location can backup safely over the net.

    -Al

  14. TR says:

    Yes, I’ve two iMacs backing up to separate TimeMachine volumes that you can create with the Drobo Dashboard.

  15. Jamie says:

    If you get a Drobo which is reliable, great. But I didn’t. The device has lost its formatting a number of times and has had to be wiped. It also has Firewire port issues. data robotics, the makers of Drobo have not been very good on the Tech Support front, it should be replace able under warranty which you have to pay for and you also have to pay to ship it across Europe because that don’t have a repair center in the UK. A full review is here http://web.me.com/jamie_jones/Drobo-Review/index.html because it would take up to much space on this website. I also suggest other options.

  16. Matt says:

    To balance with Jamie’s comments about customer support here’s a couple of blog entries I recently put up re: Drobo FS, power supply buzzing and customer service…

    http://mattfitchett.com/tech/drobo-fs-first-impressions/

    http://mattfitchett.com/tech/drobo-fs-power-supply-psu-buzzing/

  17. Eric says:

    Timon, whats the purpose of the UNIX File I/O? I just got a Drobo and did the test using the Macintosh File I/O and it results in about 12.5MB/s write and about 40.0MB/s read (jumbo frames enabled). If I set it to UNIX I’m getting comparable numbers to your tests. My problem is that my real-life usage is giving me the numbers from the Mac File I/O results. Any ideas why?

  18. TR says:

    Good point, I’ve done this because this is how Data Robotics does their benchmarks, so I can compare it with my results.

  19. MattK says:

    The unix i/o thing – yeah – seems to give good speeds. But again – in real world use it is about 12mb/s for me also.
    Did anybody find a solution?

  20. TR says:

    Like Eric said it doesn’t matter that much if you choose UNIX file I/O or Mac. As I stated in the beginning of the article I didn’t want to do non scientific stopwatch tests, because these wouldn’t be comparable. But here are some actual stopwatch results. My Drobo FS is now at 68% capacity (1.77 TB, 3x 1 TB disks), I’m running Drobo FS firmware 1.1.1 [7.12.3468] and my OS X version is 10.6.6. I’ve copied a 4.07 GB disk image to my Drobo FS, it takes 150 seconds to complete that’s an average transfer rate of 27.78 MB/s in write speed. If I copy this file from my Drobo FS to my iMac it completes in 103 seconds giving me an average read speed of 40.46 MB/sec.

  21. Owen says:

    I understand there are new issues with AFP and NAS (DroboFS or other) when 10.7 was released. Your test were done with 10.6. Any updates since 10.7, or 10.8?
    My experience – and apparently many others – is performance has dropped down into the single digit MB/s. My (all gig-E, Dashboard 2.1.2 [46070], and Firmware 1.2.4 [4.37.51655]) connection averages about 8MB/s now. Not as efficient as I’d like, and not at all what’s advertised. Reaching out to tech support hasn’t been productive, and they have not acknowledged this issue – I’m basically getting the runaround while my warranty expires.
    Updated stats would be helpful.
    Thanks!