I’ve been very disappointed with my Drobo FS during the switch to Lion. I had been using the FS for Time Machine for 3 Macs, and it had been a stable operation for 6 months.
The Lion problems seem to stem from the tighter AFP requirements in Lion. Drobo was clearly not ready. The latest firmware update has made matters worse.
When I upgraded my first machine to Lion a week ago, Time Machine could not connect to the FS. I filed a support ticket with Drobo, and received this astounding response:
We are currently in the process of a firmware update to fix apple’s more stringent AFP requirements. This is just not an issue with drobo. Although we are working on a solutionto fix the issue I do recommend making a complaint to apple if enough customers complain about what they did they may roll it back.
Read that last sentence again. Drobo wanted their customers to ask Apple to change the low-level data communication specs on a major OS upgrade, after the upgrade was released. I was dumbfounded.
Anyone who is in the software business has missed a deadline. I was inclined to cut Drobo some slack for not being ready. But that request for me to lobby Apple on their behalf really left me wondering. Were they simply not able to write a driver that worked with the new spec? Were they planning to drop Mac support? Or were they just behind schedule?
There was one other funny thing happening. When I booted the Lion machine, the Accounts/Login screen appeared, and I could move my cursor around with the mouse. But mouse clicks were ignored. It was impossible to log in! If I shut down the Drobo FS, I was able to log in to the Lion machine. I suspect some background process was hung, waiting for the Drobo. This happened every single time I booted the Lion machine.
On Monday, 4 days after Lion was released, Drobo posted a new version (1.2.0) of the firmware for the FS. Their release notes claimed that it fixed the Time Machine incompatibility. I installed it last night, and things got much worse.
With the new version of the Drobo FS firmware, neither of my machines that are still running Snow Leopard can reliably connect to the Time Machine backup shares. One machine, a Mac Mini that sees very little filesystem activity, takes 20 to 30 minutes to connect to the Drobo. The 5 to 8 MB of data transfer takes about 30 minutes. The other machine, a MacBook Pro, has not yet managed to connect to the FS for a backup. I am seeing frequent Finder freezes (every few minutes) on both Snow Leopard and Lion, and occasional crashes that require a hard reboot.
If you have machines that will remain on Snow Leopard for a while, I suggest that you not install the latest Drobo FS firmware, because it will break Time Machine and make your Finder creep. If you’re in an all-Lion environment, then it doesn’t matter which version of the firmware you use, since neither of them works.
One Twitter follower suggested the Promise DS 4600 as a Drobo replacement. I’m going to give Drobo a few more days before I give up on them completely. I have Backblaze installed on all the machines too, so it’s not a crisis for me yet.
The creation date of the latest FS firmware is July 19, two days before Lion was released, and 6 days before the firmware was released. I have a hunch that things are very busy at Drobo right now.
UPDATE Friday, July 29
I just called Drobo Support. The technician acknowledged that the 1.2.0 firmware does not solve Lion compatibility. He gave me instructions for downloading and running the test suite at http://www.aja.com/ajashare/AJA_System_Test_v601.zip to measure network performance. I haven’t done that yet.
One commenter suggested downgrading the firmware to the previous version. The Drobo support person told me that that would require the datapack to be reset, resulting in total data loss.
My personal advice is still that you skip the 1.2.0 firmware update and wait for their next attempt.