Archive for April, 2010

Drobo FS Review, part 1

My Drobo FS arrived this evening.  As I opened it up, I saw the influence of Apple’s packaging on Data Robotics.  Upon opening it, I was greeted with an accessories box with the words “Welcome to the World of…” printed across the top.  If you open the accessories box, a smaller black flap inside has “Drobo” in white letters, finishing the sentence.  If you skipped opening the accessories box (as I did), and simply removed it, you don’t escape their message, as the word “Drobo” is also printed upon the black cloth-like dust cover the Drobo chassis is enclosed in, very similar to the material enclosing an Apple monitor or an iMac.

Inside the accessory box was the Drobo Resource CD, a nice quality CAT5 cable, and the power cable and power brick.

I inserted the Resource CD and got to work hooking up the power to the Drobo.  Once finished, I was surprised NOT to see a mounted image.  I then realized that my Windows VM had grabbed the CD.  I disconnected the CD from the VM, and it mounted on my Mac automatically.

It was then that I noticed the level of detail Data Robotics appears to take with their software.  The initial installation screen looked almost exactly the same on my Windows VM as my Mac.  It wasn’t a typical Windows installation screen, but it looked more like a window you’d get when you mount a .dmg file on a Mac.  It includes an icon to start the Drobo Dashboard installer, an icon to Register your Drobo, a Support icon, and a Drobo User Guide icon.  Plus, below the text of each section is what I can only guess is the same words in various other languages.

Following the simple instructions printed on the inside of the accessory box flap, I completed the software installation, rebooted my Mac (as instructed) and inserted my three 1 TB Hitachi Deskstar drives.  It proceeded to automatically set itself up.

It automatically prompted me to download and install the latest firmware, so I let it do it’s thing.  After the Drobo rebooted, it prompted me to download and install the latest version of the Drobo Dashboard software.  Another reboot later, and I was ready to go.

On the initial Drobo Dashboard screen, a link asks for you to set an Admin user and password.  Select this first.  You’ll find yourself on the Admin tab of the Drobo FS Settings screen.  Set your username and password here, but do NOT select the “Enable DroboApps” checkbox right now.  When I initially set mine up, I made my way to this screen by way of the “Advanced Controls” button on the initial Drobo Dashboard screen.  I set my username and password, and hit the Enable DroboApps checkbox, then hit “OK”.  I’m not sure how this happened, but I had trouble getting it to accept my username, but I ended up with two “DroboApps” shares.  Being unfamiliar with Drobo, I fixed this the easiest way I knew how…  Under Advanced Controls, I selected “Reset” and did a factory reset on the Drobo.  My second time through, I didn’t have issues with a 2nd phantom “DroboApps” share.

Looking around as the rest of the tabs, it’s pretty self-explanatory.  The first tab allows you to enable Dual Disk Redundancy (allowing 2 drives to fail, while maintaining full data integrity), set the drive spin-down time, and dim the lights on the Drobo.  The second tab sets your Drobo’s name, workgroup, IP addressing, and MTU size.  The third tab is where you set your admin username, password, and enable DroboApps.  The fourth tab allows you to set up shares and users, and select which users have access to which share.  The last tab allows you to set up email alerts… Although, the screen was entirely disabled for some reason, not letting me enable alerts…

Looking through the menu, I found a “Drobo Dashboard – E-mail Settings” screen, which did allow me to enable email alerts.  An option also exists via the menu that lets you have files copied on the schedule you set.

I’ve installed the Rsync DroboApp, and I’m planning to try to backup my ReadyNAS to it, so I can set my ReadyNAS back to factory defaults…

I’ll continue this review later, hopefully with some performance numbers.

April 23, 2010 at 11:08 pm 2 comments

A Better RAID?

My previous post outlined the problem that I have with RAID.  To ensure you have a reliable RAID array, you buy the Enterprise level drives, which are about 40-50% (or so) more expensive than your run-of-the-mill desktop drives.  It’s important that all drives in your array are the same model, to ensure peak performance.

Before the ReadyNAS line of appliances, if you need more space, you had to rebuild the array with more or larger drives.

With the ReadyNAS, if you need more space, just add more of the same model of drives.  Convenient, right?  If your RAID’s drive cage is full, though, you must buy all new drives and replace them, one at a time.  When they are all replaced, it will expand the RAID capacity on the next reboot.  It’s not a cheap solution, but it’s pretty easy to manage.

Drobo has a better way.  With a Drobo, you pop in whatever drives you have available, and it will build a redundant array of the maximum capacity that it can come up with, given the drives you provide.  Automatically.

Need more capacity?  Buy whatever drive is on sale that has a greater capacity than your smallest drive, and replace that smallest drive.  It will reshuffle your data around, expanding the redundant capacity.  Automatically.

If your Drobo isn’t full, it’s even easier.  Just buy a new drive and pop it in and Drobo does the rest.  Automatically.

This sounds amazingly wonderful from my perspective.  Is it really possible that it could be this easy?  Just use off-the-shelf desktop drives, whatever brand you want, whatever is on sale?

There must be some problem with a Drobo, right?

Until recently, I would have agreed. It handles RAID in software, making it relatively slow.  The original Drobo was a USB device.  Even the new 5 bay Drobo S that came out late last year is still a USB/Firewire/ESATA device, not a true NAS. (Though, the Drobo S is supposed to be much faster than the original Drobo units)

They do offer the DroboShare, to “turn” your Drobo into a NAS, but I’m a purist and don’t consider that an acceptable solution.  Part of me has been hoping they would come out with a real NAS solution, but I really didn’t expect to see one, given their track record.

April 6, 2010.  Enter the Drobo FS.  It’s the Drobo I’ve been waiting for, an actual NAS.  And it is supposed to be even faster than the Drobo S, capable of speeds in the 30MB to 40MB/sec range, according to the Drobo people.  That’s a good bit slower than my ReadyNAS Pro, which is in the mid 40 MB/sec range on AFP.  (But a great deal slower than the ReadyNAS Pro on CIFS, at 65-70MB/sec)

I was waiting for reviews of the Drobo FS to hit the web, but yesterday decided to pull the trigger.  Mine should arrive Thursday.  I hope to be able to post a review here in the next week or so.

April 20, 2010 at 9:27 pm Leave a comment

The downfall of most RAIDs

The downfall of most RAID arrays is that you must buy expensive drives.  And the price for those drives doesn’t always go down.  Need more space?  Add another high priced drive, or buy all new drives and replace them, one at a time.

You do want good reliability for your data, right?  Then you gotta buy the Enterprise level drives, so “they” say. They are a good bit more expensive, but that 5 year warranty gives you a warm and fuzzy.  After all, they wouldn’t warranty them for 5 years unless they were pretty sure that the darn things would last at least that long, right?

So, I had a ReadyNAS NV+ with 3 Seagate ES drives (250 GB each, I think).  All was fine.   But, then I started running low on disk space, and Infrant came out with a new model.

I upgraded to a ReadyNAS Pro Pioneer with 3 Seagate 500 GB ES.2 drives.  Within about a month, I had a drive failure.  I paid Seagate the $20 to get an advance replacement, but while waiting for my replacement, I did a bit of research online.  It showed that these ES.2 drives have a bad habit of failing. Further research indicated the Western Digital RE3 drives were among the best at the time.  I picked up 3 of them for just over $90 each, and sold one or two of the ES.2 drives off to a friend (giving him the full warning).

So, here I am just over a year later, running low on disk space, again.  Looking around, I see additional 750 GB RE3’s available for about $130.  I resist the urge to buy another one, knowing that multiple brands of 1 TB drives are available for under $100 each.  The fact that a new one is $40 more than I originally paid hurts too.  Then THE fated email arrived.  Yes, my ReadyNAS Pro sent me and email to let me know that I had a drive failure.

Fortunately, Western Digital takes their warranty a bit more seriously than Seagate, as they offer a no cost advance replacement option (just needing a credit card to ensure you return the dead one).

But, that doesn’t solve my space issue.

April 20, 2010 at 7:36 pm Leave a comment

USAA Bank Customer No-Service

Ok – I don’t generally post complaints on my blog.  I mean for it to be mainly technically oriented, but I just couldn’t let this one go.

USAA is rated as an awesome insurer.  They are said to provide great customer service, and get claims handled quickly and painlessly, and have good rates.

Perhaps I wrongly assumed that their Bank arm would have similar customer service.

I recently opened a checking and savings account with them.  When initially opening the account, it offers you the chance to make an initial deposit from another bank, so I set up my credit union’s Savings account and set up transfers.

Days later, I noticed that the funds were showing cleared at USAA.  At my credit union, though, the funds were still in the savings account.  I sent them a message to let them know:

My initial deposit shows clear on USAA, but my credit union doesn’t show that the money has been withdrawn yet. When I made my initial deposit, I did not have the checks in front of me, so I contacted my credit union to find the ABA number. I do not recall what that number was, but on my checks, it is XXXXXXX. The savings account that my initial deposit was to be taken from was account number XXXXXXX. Please verify that this is the account this money came from (and my credit union is just slow to update their end).

They sent this back:

Thank you for your message regarding your initial deposits to your newly established checking and savings accounts. Our records indicate that the deposits were returned to us unpaid as “Unable to Locate Account”. Therefore, the funds were removed from the account.

Please confirm the account information and then you can select Add an Account to your Funds Transferlist, and initiate a new transfer. If you have additional questions or concerns, please reply to this message or call us at 800-531-8722.

So, I did as asked and linked my credit union checking account.  This was different, in that it validated it by making two small deposits to my account and I had to enter those deposits into USAA’s website.  During this process, I found my credit union savings account within the USAA website and there was a link to start the validation process, so I did.  Note that I was unable to change anything in the account (the ABA or account numbers).  A day or two later, both my checking and savings accounts were validated.

So, following the advice of the first person from USAA, I tried to initiate a transfer.  I couldn’t.  Only my freshly validated credit union accounts showed up in the list as an account that I could transfer to, not the USAA checking or savings accounts.

So, I contacted them again:

Hi, when I initially set up my account, there was an issue with verifying the account that I was transferring funds from. I’ve now gotten my credit union Checking account verified, but when I go to the Transfer screen, neither my USAA Savings or USAA Checking show up as destinations for my transfers.

They replied:

Thank you for your message involving your accounts ending in XXXX and XXXX. Our records indicate that we were unable to collect the initial deposits from the non-USAA account XXXXXXXX. Due to this failed activity, the accounts were placed in a “credits only” status until good funds are received.
Please note that you may make a quick deposit to your USAA accounts any of the following ways:
Wire Transfer – You can wire funds to us without USAA charging a fee. Please contact the non-USAA bank to arrange. Upon receipt of the funds, please contact us to reinstate your account.
Western Union
Use the Blue Quick Collect Form and list the code city as Four Star Texas.
The name and account number on the form must match the account being credited.
Include the member’s name, USAA number and account number.
We must receive your deposit by 5:15 p.m. Central time to credit it the same day.
Cash Advance – You can get up to eight cash advances during a 30-day period. The maximum limit for cash advances is $2,500 daily and a total of $5,000 monthly. Due to your account’s current status, please contact us at 1-800-531-8722 to arrange.

My message back to them:

I am trying to deposit money into my USAA accounts. Why are you trying to make this harder for me?The initial deposit failed due to no fault of mine. That same account has now been successfully verified via your deposit verification system (where you deposited two amounts to my account, and I verified them through your website). The fact that this same account initially returned as “Unable to Locate Account” should make it obvious that whatever went wrong was not my fault. If you just open up these accounts to accept deposits, I’ll transfer money into them, and the problem will be all solved. If you continue to tell me that the only way to get money into these accounts is to transfer it in some way that costs me money (all three of the methods you mentioned are not free), then I can only respond by saying to close these two accounts, as it’s not worth the trouble to jump through all these hoops to be your customer. I should not have to do anything more than any brand new customer that came to your website would have to do to get money into their account. Forcing me to do one of these other methods feels as if I’ve been tagged as a potential criminal. I’ve not done anything to try to defraud USAA out of anything, yet I feel that I’m being treated with less respect than your other customers. In fact, I was the one that told you that the deposited amounts looked clear at USAA, but the money still had not been removed from my credit union Savings account.

Their reply:

We appreciate your feedback. We recommend you mail a check for the initial deposit since the options provided were not viable for you. Please mail a check to:

USAA Federal Savings Bank
Attn: Bank Priority Mail
10750 McDermott Freeway
San Antonio, TX 78284-8499

Please be sure to write the account number on the check. Once the deposit is received, your accounts will be activated.

My response:

This is insane. As I said before, if you can’t open it up so that I can transfer money into the account from one of the two accounts I have already validated (including the one that you originally somehow got a reject from), then simply close the checking and savings accounts. Even this latest method to get my initial deposit costs money (in the form of a stamp), and takes too much time. All you had to do was allow me to transfer money into it from the accounts that I’ve already validated. I understand you probably have your rules to go by, but why even have a customer support department if they can’t actually do anything?
One more thing – Please forward this up to a superior. And I would like to hear back from them. Having an online bank that won’t accept my deposit from verified accounts doesn’t make any sense. These aren’t new accounts that I’ve verified, I’ve had them both for about 15 years. There wasn’t an NSF issue when my initial deposit was attempted, just something about not being able to locate the account. That’s obviously not due to me, so either your system had a glitch, or something along those lines. Why penalize me for it?

And this is their most recent reply:

Management has reviewed your messages. We would like to take this opportunity to apologize for any inconvenience. Please note that your USAA Four Star Checking Account ending XXXX and your USAA Savings account ending XXXX are both in a restricted status. As a result these accounts will only be able to accept deposits and cannot be utilized in a funds transfer. This is why your USAA accounts are not showing up in the funds transfer list.

According to our records, the initial deposits to your USAA accounts from the external account (ending XXXX) was returned in the total amount of $XXX.XX ($XX from checking & $XXX.XX from savings). The funds were returned as we were unable to locate account. Since the initial deposits were returned, your USAA accounts were placed in this restricted status.

Until you make the minimum deposits of $25.00 per account, the accounts will remain in this restricted status.

I’ve been trying to make deposits into this account from the two accounts they have validated, but they won’t allow it, so I’m just telling them to close these two accounts.  At this point, unless they offered me something north of $1000.00 for the trouble they’ve put me through, I don’t think I’d be interested in doing my banking business with them.  (And there’s not much chance of that…)

I hope the executives of USAA google their own names and come across this post, so they can see why I’m not going to be banking with them due to their massive failure in customer service.  Director: Arthur R. Emerson, CEO: Mark H. Wright

Perhaps it’s because I work in technology and know that this isn’t a technical issue that their failure infuriates me so much, but rather that I’ve been placed into a “penalty box” because the initial deposit failed.  I can’t see why they refuse to allow these accounts to be used with transfers, as long as their system doesn’t allow me to transfer money out of an account that doesn’t have any.  Oh, and if that is the problem…  You need better I.T. guys!

April 18, 2010 at 6:51 pm 2 comments

ReadyNAS Pro Performance

Just yesterday, I ran a series of quick tests to see the performance of the ReadyNAS Pro.  I was surprised by the result in two ways… Here’s a run down:

NOTE: The same 3.22 GB ISO file was used for all tests.  AFP tests were performed using the latest model iMac (the first iMac with a 16×9 screen) with a 3.06 Ghz Core2Duo running Snow Leopard 10.6.3.  CIFS tests were performed using a Core i3 530 Windows 7 workstation with a Gigabyte H55M-S2H motherboard.  Nothing was done to ensure that no other operations were taking place on the network during these tests.

Protocol      READ         WRITE       READ TIME   WRITE TIME
AFP        45.2 MB/sec  46.6 MB/sec      68 sec      66 sec
CIFS       69.9 MB/sec  78.8 MB/sec      44 sec      38 sec


1.  AFP is slower than CIFS on the ReadyNAS.  I knew this already, but it’s pretty striking how much slower it is.  I’m guessing this has to do with the AFP client used on the ReadyNAS.

2. Write times were faster than read times, no matter what protocol was used to transfer the file.  And yes, I’m sure that I didn’t mix those up.  This is very odd.

Why did I run these tests, you may wonder?  I wanted to get a reminder of how fast this box really is, and compare that to the recently released competition.  Drobo just last week released the Drobo FS, their first real NAS device.  They claim their device gets about 30-40 MB/sec, but I have yet to see definitive numbers from any third party.  I love the concept of a box that when you run low on space, you just pop a new drive in of whatever type is on sale at the time, and it automatically moves all your data around to give you more space.  I just don’t know if I’m already too spoiled by the speed of the ReadyNAS to happily move to a Drobo FS.  If the AFP and CIFS performance of the Drobo FS is in the 30-40 MB/sec range, I might consider it, as it’s probably only about a 25% decrease in the performance I’m seeing today on my Macs.

April 13, 2010 at 5:10 pm Leave a comment


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