Saturday, June 4, 2011

Drobo FS first impressions

In our family data center, we've recently been upgrading from our previous file server solution, which was a 3Ware RAID card on the master Linux workstation, to a sparkling new Data Robotics (hmmm maybe now they just call themselves "Drobo"?) Drobo FS.

The box itself is gorgeous and simple. On the back, there are two connections: power, and Ethernet. On the front, the box communicates with lights. There are green, yellow, red, and blue lights, with a variety of meanings. Basically, green means the box is running and the disks are happy; blue tells you how full your system is (we're barely 10 % used, though that will quickly grow as we migrate data to the box).

Inside the box, there are five slots, each of which takes a SATA 3.5 inch hard drive. Yes, that's the entire specification of the disk drive requirements:

Accommodates from one to five 3.5” SATA I / SATA II hard drives of any manufacturer, capacity,
spindle speed, and/or cache.

We populated ours with 5 fresh new Seagate 1 TB drives; at $50 each, with Drobo's "double disk redundancy" enabled, $250 buys about 3 terabytes of fully protected high speed file server storage.

On your network, the Drobo makes itself available as a completely encapsulated Windows file server. Drobo provide a very simple "dashboard" management tool, with which you can connect to the device, configure user access, monitor system conditions, start/stop/restart the device, control network configuration, create and manage filesystems, etc.

By default, the machine grabs a network position using DHCP and then waits patiently for you to connect with the dashboard and start configuring shares.

Connecting to the Drobo from the 4 Windows machines was nearly instant; the Drobo is incredibly friendly to a small Windows network.

Connecting from the Linux box was a bit more challenging, though we soon worked it out. These are the essential steps (for our Ubuntu machine):

  • Ensure that you have the smbfs application suite installed on your Linux box to enable things like mount.cifs

  • Give the Drobo a static IP address on your network for ease of describing mount commands, or at least give it a DNS name that works from your other devices.

  • Using standard Linux commands, mount the Drobo file shares, and away you go!

I got a little bit confused about how to tell the Linux box to mount and access the device as a non-root user; my first mount attempts resulted in mounting the Drobo so that only the root account on the Linux box could access it.

With a bit of experimentation, we discovered that the mount.cifs tool appears to use some combination of the information in the mount command, and the ownership and permissions on the mountpoint, to decide how to access the remote filesystem, so we did this:

  • mkdir /my/mount/point

  • chown normal /my/mount/point

  • chgrp normal /my/mount/point

  • in /etc/fsttab, express the mount as type cifs //my-drobo/thedroboshare /my/mount/point user=normal,uid=normaluid,gid=normalgid 0 0

where "normal" is the normal non-root userid we're interested in using from the Linux box.

Once we had that in place, the Linux machine seems just as happy with the Drobo as all the Windows machines, so hopefully we're off to the races.

I wonder how long it will take to go from 10% full to 75% full on the file server?

So far, my only complaint is that it seems to take about 5 minutes to go through a restart cycle. I'm not quite sure why it takes so long, is it doing a complete filesystem verification at startup?

Ars Technica have (as usual) a fantastic detailed two-part review of the Drobo FS, which I will now try to find the time to read thoroughly.

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