One week with the Drobo on Linux

16 March 2008 » Drobo, Linux, System administration

I’ve been in the market for a media storage and/or backup device for my home network for some time now.

I don’t have any more free bays in my server, so adding space there wasn’t an option. Reusing any of the spare machines cluttering up the basement didn’t make much sense either, from a power or capacity point of view.

I had considered a few consumer network attached storage devices, but nothing really felt right for my needs; an SSH interface for nightly rsync backups, relatively easy setup, and future expandability.

Fortunately, I bounced the idea off of my gadget-savvy co-worker Kashif. He pointed me to a product called Drobo.

At first, it didn’t seem to fit in with what I wanted to do, primarily networkability and an SSH interface. But after watching the demo, I was sold. I was going to make it work somehow.

Drobo is intended to plug into your Mac or PC as an external USB drive. To your computer, it looks like any other external storage device, but while it just appears a chunk of capacity, Drobo uses a hot-swappable pseudo-RAID approach internally to protect data and provide extreme flexibility for future expansion.

That said, Drobo only officially works with Mac and PC. You can format it in their mutually incompatible filesystem formats; HFS+ and NTFS respectively, or share it between platforms with the old FAT32 standard.

To mount it under Linux, I had to choose to use either FAT32, NTFS-3G on FUSE, or ext3. In order to get the ext3 support, you’re supposed to use the DroboShare, which costs an extra $200.

Instead, I used that money to get two 500GB hard drives and approached ext3 support a different way. I connected the Drobo to my Linux server and formatted it as I had for the new drive I mounted internally last year.

This meant that the storage isn’t directly accessible on the network, but I could easily share it out via the server. This also makes backups from the server faster.

Following are the steps I took:

  • Unbox the Drobo and put in two drives from Newegg. (Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD5000AAKS 500GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive – OEM).
  • Plugged it into my Windows XP machine to check for firmware updates, not to format the drive. There were none so I could have skipped the step.
  • Plugged it into my CentOS 4.6 Linux server, then ran lshw to find the device name (/dev/sdc).
  • Entered the following commands to format the drives and mount the Drobo at startup:
    [root@]# /sbin/mke2fs -j -i 262144 -L Drobo -m 0 -O sparse_super,^resize_inode -q /dev/sdc
    [root@]# mkdir /drobo
    [root@]# mount -t ext3 /dev/sdc /drobo
    [root@]# vi /etc/fstab
            /dev/sdc   /drobo  ext3    defaults     0 0
  • Reboot and chown’d the filesystem to my rsync user name.

Everything seems to work well for now, but I’ll post an update when I add capacity later this year.

I suspect I’ll have to make some changes in the future, but for easily adding expandable protected storage to a home Linux server the Drobo is a highly recommended option.

Another tip from Kashif: use the promo code “Cali” when checking out at to save $50.