Recently, I wrote a article about the issues I had with Drobo Corp. in regards to the trouble that occurred when I attempted to upgrade the firmware on my Drobo 5D.
Not long after I wrote that article I was contacted directly by Drobo by a phone call. They had read my article and were concerned that my support experience had resulted the way it had. The phone conversation was with the Vice President of Drobo’s Service and End User Support. During the call I went back over my previous case and the problems I incurred trying to get my original 5D to run the latest firmware and still connect via USB3. One of the points I made was that I had been surprised to come away with such a negative impression since previously all of my support issues with Drobo products had been very positive.
What I took away from this call was that Drobo does care about the end user. As a company, Drobo is focused on supplying a high level of quality for their hardware/software and support of these products. The V.P. of service agreed that my previous experience with Drobo’s support process was not the impression that the company wanted to impart.
The fact that Drobo’s V.P. of Service reached out to me was most impressive. I did not expect this and because of it, I realized that my most recent impression of the Drobo Company and their support process was incorrect and with his guidance should give this process a 2nd chance. From our conversation I we put a plan in place that we both agreed should get me to a final resolution that was better than the first. Based on our conversations, here is what Drobo agreed to do for my problem:
- Ship a new 5D off the line to replace my 2nd refurbished unit
- Assign a new support case and give me the support from a dedicated 3rd level engineer who would follow the case until resolution
- Provide phone numbers so that I could talk with the tech when I felt it was required
- Pre-test the new 5D before it shipped to make sure it operated to specs.
The end result was that I received a replacement unit and a set of (2) 2 TB drives that Drobo had pre-tested. The new unit arrived with the latest version of the 5D firmware, 3.0.9 and it installed clean on my production win7 64 machine. I was able to move my (5) drives over to the new 5D and the array came up clean. All the data was immediately accessible with no errors that I could determine. The throughput of the USB3 connection was as I expected with no slow downs and there were no USB3 mass storage device driver errors in device manager (indicated by yellow exclamation points). During the boot up process of the new 5D, I did see the “USB device not recognized” screen but this is only temporary with the box going away after about 5 seconds. The new unit boots up and is assigned a drive letter by the win OS like it should. It is very possible that my Asus P8P67 main board and it’s corresponding NEC/Renesas USB3 drivers have a slight issue with the Drobo boot process, however the key factor is that the 5D comes up clean and operates correctly.
I came away from this experience with a totally different opinion of Drobo and their products. Drobo is a company that does care about the end user. It’s also clear that they are concerned about situations like mine, enough so that they were willing to reach out to me directly. It’s clear to me now that one of their company goals is to produce an environment that allows the end user have the best experience with their products.
I also came away with a few thoughts about my operation that may have helped in this situation:
- When my problem first happened during the upgrade of the 5D’s firmware I had not registered my 5D with Drobo. They are very clear about needing to have this done and it was a oversight on my side for not getting it done when I first received the product. By registering your device, you are letting Drobo know that this serial number is now in use so they can can track it.
- I did a firmware upgrade without having my 5D fully backed up. Normally I will have a backup of a Drobo in use. It may not be 100% current but will be within 90%. In this case my backup was only about 25% of the 5D before I attempted the firmware update. Having a full backup is very important, as it can reduce the stress of trying to get your unit back on-line or operating with the most.
- I should have pushed harder to ask to speak to a representative. I made several attempts of this in my online case, however I never reached out to Drobo from outside the confines of my on-line case.
Overall I feel the 5D is still an excellent value when compared to other raid solutions (for a win7 platform). I was trying to figure out where to go next as I really did not want to dedicate a new PC just for a raid array. The Drobo 5D still offers a great overall solution for a raid device for a end user like myself.
Drobo is aware of the fact that some customers may have run into situations like my previous one and they are working to add support solutions that will give the best possible answers. They have re-done the support website and it’s now much easier to navigate to your open cases. Most cases will have an initial response within 12 hours or less. I also feel it’s safe to say that the Drobo Company is very concerned about their support for the 5D as it’s one of their best selling products. The company is making some internal changes with the support process to make sure that a 5D support case does not get sidelined as mine did back in September.
This information was originally posted to my blog back in October of 2013. However I am still receiving emails from other users who have run into this same problem with both Win7 64 bit and now Win8 64 bit and USB 3 connectivity. I would strongly recommend you do not upgrade your Drobo 5D unless there is some other pertinent reason for the need. I don’t feel that Drobo has a good grip on this issue based on my month long open call with them. Once again, it should be noted, Drobo no longer offers free tech support for any of the Drobo consumer lines, after the first 90 days of purchase. After that you will be required to purchase a 1 year contract from them for around $179.00. U.S. This gives you the right open a ticket and email back and forth, but not “talk” to a human. Based my my 25 years of experience in the tech field, I feel this angle is wrong. In my case, one simple phone call with a tech or “engineer” as they are called would have easily solved this issue. Remember my 1st replacement unit was defective with the power switch. Something that anyone who has used these products for any period of time would know. Instead my tech or “engineer” implied that I was “stupid” and did not understand the basics of how the 5D operated. Interestingly enough after a huge amount of my time wasted on emails, the same tech or “engineer” was astonished to see that “yes it does appear that your current replacement Drobo 5D chassis has a power supply issue”. What was even more interesting was that when the 2nd unit arrived, it worked just like the 1st unit I had purchased (which failed after the firmware upgrade past 3.0.7). Personally, I do have a problem when I company takes the position that (A) Your time is not important to us, and (B) We know more about the unit’s basic function than you even though you have operated it daily for almost 8 months.
Drobo used to have excellent support, dedicated tech’s who followed up with your issue. This was all provided with the base 1 year warranty. Now it’s 90 day’s and after that pay up. Also remember that the price of the Drobo 5D is around 800.00 U.S. well actually that is a bit misleading, as you do need support so the price is really $979.00.
Drobo had a great idea, not sure if the original company founders were bought out (more than likely the case) or if something else happened. But my future raid solutions will all be based on a raid card (LSI for example) and a simple PC board/tower case. This will actually cost out cheaper than the current price point of the Drobo 5D with necessary support.
FOR NOW I WOULD NOT UPGRADE TO THE LATEST FIRMWARE ON THE DROBO 5D IF YOURS IS WORKING OK WITH A WIN7 64 BIT MACHINE AND USB3. Once you upgrade, there is no longer a way to downgrade. Drobo used to offer this option with their older superior support on the old 4 bay models, but now they are only looking forward. For a single owned shop like myself that puts a large dependency on a raid 5 or raid 1 setup for primary backup this product is no longer a valid consideration.
Update on 10/12/13
What I thought was a fix, turned out to be a dead end as the replacement Drobo would not work correctly on my production PC. It would boot up, and briefly showed all the correct lights, but as soon as windows gave the new hardware tone, the Drobo rebooted and started this process over and over, never coming on line. I was able to bring up a new disk pac with the replacement drobo, (2) 200GB drives. This worked correctly, but for some reason, my (5) 2 TB drives would not work. I also received a windows error about “A USB device attached to this computer cannot be recognized”. This error comes up with either Drobo, mine or the replacement.
I went back to my original Drobo 5D with my hard drives and booted it up. It came up fine, still getting the USB device error, but still it comes up and is recognized by windows and assigned a drive letter.
As of Friday, Drobo is sending me yet another replacement 5D now stating that the original replacement was defective!!. Something I believe I tried to tell them after I first tried to use it. As of today, I still have not SPOKEN to anyone at Drobo, from a tech to supervisor and it’s quite apparent now based on the information I have inputted to the case, that Drobo is not interested in talking to me. I am sorry to see that this is the way that Drobo has gone and I have for sure purchased my last piece of equipment from them. I love their website showing all the “happy” users, well, that is pure fiction.
Update on 10/05/13
After working through two more days, and getting a better feel for the tech support with Drobo, I finally was able to fix this issue. The problem stemmed from the fact that both of my PC’s (with Asus boards) were running very back level USB3 drivers. On one PC drivers dated back to 2010 and the other 2011. I am planning to write up a bit more about this, but I did want to state, that DROBO DID RESOLVE THIS MATTER AND MY 5D IS NOW RUNNING ON BOTH MY PRODUCTION AND TEST PC’S WITH NO PROBLEMS. I am willing to take some of the blame for this entire debacle, however Drobo could have made this so much easier with just one phone call explaining the issues with the USB3 drivers. I will also note that Drobo was helpful in providing an updated driver for both of my Asus mainboards, something that Asus was not able to do since they quit updating the P8P67 mainboard over 1 year ago. Net, to this story, things have changed at Drobo. In the old days, you could talk to a person, and that person gave you an extension and you could call them back until the problem was resolved. Now you are going to work on-line, (the way of the world) and no doubt there will be some misinterpretations of instructions. However I have to state that my initial extreme disappointment with the Drobo support group has now been lessened and in the future I will know how to proceed with them.
Amazingly since I started this problem after trying to upgrade my Drobo 5D firmware, I still have not been able to talk to a “supervisor” within the Drobo tech support organization. Yesterday I received a “replacement” unit, which was dirty, smelled burnt and was scratched on the faceplate. This was the unit that was supposed to work correctly with USB 3, however when I brought it up on my PC, it had the same issue: The Drobo comes up, is seen by Win 7, Win 7 makes the tone for adding a new device, immediately after that the Drobo drops back to standby and on a detailed inspection the USB mass storage driver has failed. ON THIS REPLACEMENT UNIT I WAS NOT ABLE TO GET THE UNIT TO EVER COME BACK UP EVEN BY RELOADING THE USB MASS STORAGE DRIVER.
Based on my 20 years experience in the PC market, where I worked for IBM for close to 30 years, I am amazed by this response, especially from a company like Drobo that just a years ago had excellent customer service. If you can’t get through to a supervisor especially after having an open call for over 60 hours and the unit is still not working, then THERE ARE SOME PROBLEMS IN YOUR COMPANY. Sadly this seems to be the trend in business today and I hate to see Drobo go this route. They have obviously spent a ton of money on marketing, just look at their current website. However I WOULD STRONGLY warn anyone or any company not to make a large investment for data protection with Drobo products. Their lack of ability to communicate, reach out to a customer who has a Drobo that was working perfectly before attempting a Drobo firmware update, and lack of management follow up is pretty telling.
As long as you bring up the 5D in a USB 2 environment it still works fine, however this totally defeats the over $800.00 dollar cost of the chassis in that you are dropping back to a USB2 transfer speed and you can get a 1st Gen Chassis for that. Sure they are no longer sold by Drobo, but there are plenty of them around. However now that I think about it, that might not be a good idea either since the support for an existing product is pretty much terrible, I can’t imagine what it would be like for older 4 bay.
I understand I running a Asus mainboard, but the USB3 drivers with most board companies are pretty much the same as long as the board is a Intel board.
From here it’s back to chassis and LSI cards, with drives for me.
This is my earlier post when the problem first started.
IF YOU ARE RUNNING A DROBO 5D, ATTACHED TO A WINDOWS 7 PROFESSIONAL 64 BIT MACHINE VIA USB3, I STRONGLY RECOMMEND YOU DO YOU NOT UPDATE THE FIRMWARE OF THE DROBO 5D TO 3.0.8 UNTIL YOU CHECK ON THE DATE OF YOUR INSTALLED USB3 DRIVERS, ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE RUNNING A NEC OR RENESEAS USB3 CHIPSET.
I have been using Drobo products for storage/backup now for almost 4 years. For most of those years I used the original 4 bay 1st Gen Drobo that connected via USB 2. This device has been stable for most of this time, and had worked as a external raid 5 enclose would be expected i.e. notifying me when a drive was close to failing or failed and allowing me to replace said drive with no data loss. My only issue with the 1st generation Drobo was the fact that is slow for reads/writes mainly due to the fact that it’s only connection was USB2.
When the Drobo 5D, 5 bay product was announced I did not immediately move to purchase one. I felt (and now still do) that the price point of close to $850.00 was too high for my budget. However early in 2013, I was totally out of space on my 1st generation Drobo so I purchased the Drobo 5D. I installed the 5D on my main windows 7 64 bit machine, utilizing the USB 3 interface. I used all 5 drive bays and filled them with 2TB drives. Since I made the installation of the 5D, I had had no problems, until this past Friday night, when I made the FATAL mistake of allowing the Drobo dashboard to download and install the latest firmware for the 5D. Normally my thought process on firmware updates are “don’t update to them unless you see a specific need fixed”, however on this night I went ahead and allowed the Drobo dashboard to upgrade both the firmware on the Drobo 5D and Drobo Dashboard.
From here, things went downhill fast. The firmware update on the hardware failed. This pinged my memory back to when I tried this on my Drobo 4 bay, and I remembered that I had had the same issue with it. On the installation failure the Drobo 5D rebooted and then attempted to come back up. It went through the entire reboot, and then just as I received the tone of a new device being added to Windows, the Drobo 5D went into standby. I attempted one more hard restart and the same thing happened. From here I called Drobo customer support, and again I was in for a rude awakening. One thing I forgot, was my old 4 bay never worked correctly on firmware updates from the Drobo dashboard software, instead I had to always do a manual firmware update.
In the past I all of my tech support calls with Drobo support have been positive. They have been prompt, informed about the product, and have been able to provide a fix, either software or hardware. On this call in I was told that I had not “registered” my Drobo 5D, even though I had placed a tech support call with Drobo when I received the unit and I could see both the call record and serial number of the 5D in “my support” portion of the Drobo website. The tech I spoke to was polite, but would not proceed until I registered the product. I went ahead with the registration and then found out that Drobo no longer provides “free” tech support after the 1st 90 days of ownership. After this, you have to purchase a 1 year support contract for $162.00. This surprised me, but at this point, I didn’t care, as I needed to get to the data on this Drobo 5D. Most was backed up offline, but not in a local backup. NOTE TO DROBO, for the price of over $800.00 for a empty raid enclosure, I believe you should be able to continue to provide tech support for no charge for at least the 1st year of warranty. However Drobo has taken the sad path of most companies, if you need help, prepare to pay. This needs to be spelled out a bit better up front.
After paying the 1 year contract, not much else improved, except that I figured out on my own that my 5D was still OK, and somehow the firmware update had created an error on the Windows 7 mass storage USB device driver. After taking to Drobo tech support, it became quite clear that the firmware update had not taken and I had to download the firmware and do a manual update. This did not fix the problem and the 5D still came up and went into standby. A NOTE TO DROBO, you need to post a bit more information on this upgrade as when I spoke to a 3rd tech later on Saturday, I was informed that this is a known problem after you upgrade the firmware on the 5D to 3.0.8. This is terrible customer service, period. If you are using a raid enclosure, you are using it mainly to protect your data and provide a level of security, NET, if I had not followed the prompts on the screen, my Drobo 5D would be working fine. The 3rd tech I spoke to on Saturday also told me that there currently was not a fix for this issue and blamed it on the Windows 7 mass storage driver. Really? Did Windows suddenly change this driver? I checked as far as I could and the date on my system for the USB Mass storage driver showed no change, in fact it’s the same date as when the OS was loaded.
Here is where things are currently:
- If you are running Windows 7 64 bit and have a Drobo 5D, using USB 3 connections, then if you update to the latest firmware of 3.0.8 for the Drobo 5D, you have a very good chance of getting this same issue. I am running an Asus XXXXXX board, with a Intel i7 processor. This is no way I know to get this driver/firmware screwup fixed. Net each time from now on, when you attach the Drobo 5D, it will come up normally, then go into standby. I tried a full system restore back to the date before I did this firmware update, the system restore was successful, however the problem was still there. Based on this it’s a fair conclusion that a full image restore of the OS (Win7 64 bit) would not fix this problem as the issue is with the Drobo firmware 3.0.8 and the stock Windows 7 64 bit Mass storage driver for USB. The only way I can think to fix the issue is to back off the firmware to a previous version than 3.0.8 on the Drobo 5D.
- You can fix the problem and continue to use the Drobo 5D by either unplugging the USB 3 cable from the PC or back of the Drobo 5D, while leaving the power on the Drobo 5D. Windows 7 will then see it correctly and add the drive letter for the Drobo. You can also go to control panel==device manager and locate the USB mass storage device driver that has failed. It will have the dreaded yellow ! next to it. Select this component and go through the process to reload the driver using the 2nd option. This will get the drive back online, and the Drobo will come out of standby and Windows will assign a letter to it and you can operate as normal.
- You can also plug the Drbo 5D in to a USB 2 port and it will work fine. This was one answer I received from Drobo tech support. This makes no sense as you have now brought your 5D back to the speed of the older 4 bay models.
Overall I still have a ticket open with Drobo tech support and if I get some form of resolution, I will post the results here. Currently I can only get my 5D to operate at the correct level, by unplugging the USB 3 cable, or reloading the Windows 7 mass storage driver.