Drobo and 3TB Hard Drives

January 19, 2012

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I hope this post helps save someone a few hours of frustration trying to update their Drobo Second Gen to firmware 1.4.1 using FireWire.

I ordered my second generation Drobo on Friday the 13th. It was on sale from the Drobo store for half price and I received the unit within two days of placing the order.

Opening the Drobo packaging was a lot of fun. They created a nice experience and the unit was obviously packaged with care and thought. Very similar to opening the packaging of an Apple product.

Unfortunately that is where the similarity ended. Whenever I have turned on an Apple product, it just works.  When I turned the Drobo on, all I could see were red lights. My 3TB hard drives had failed. All of them.

It did not take me long to determine that the Drobo required a firmware update. Asking Google “does Drobo support 3TB drives” led me here. Okay, the firmware — version 1.4.1 — was released in October of last year. Not sure why my machine had a much older firmware version as I only received it two days ago but sure. Let’s get it updated and get the 3TB hard drives online.

Using the Drobo dashboard, I downloaded the firmware patch and applied the update.

“Update successful.” the Drobo machine informed me. “I will need to reboot for the changes to take effect.”

“Reboot away.” I replied.

Reboot unsuccessful. Red lights. Hard drive failure.

I love problem-solving. I always follow the same process. Which basically means I repeat the same set of steps. I hope for a different outcome. I’m not sure why. But generally, every time I follow the same set of steps I usually get the exact same result. And the Drobo did not let me down. Red lights. Always red. After downloading the firmware update several more times and rebooting the Drobo several more times, I concluded that a firmware release was not going to fix the problem.

Maybe all of the drives were bad?

Doubtful.

I searched the support pages again and found a post that suggested a manual update. Download the firmware file. Unzip the firmware file. Load the Drobo Dashboard. Control-click the “update firmware” section and select the downloaded firmware file. Apply the firmare update.

Reboot unsuccessful. Red Lights. Hard drive failure.

As I enjoy my conventional approach to problem-solving, I repeated the same set of steps several more times. And I achieved the exact same result several more times. And the Drobo did not let me down. Red lights. Always red.

Okay. What on earth is going on? Oh, yes. Repeating the same set of steps expecting a different outcome is a poor problem-solving process. Maybe I should think about a different approach.

It then dawned on me that there may be a way to check to see if the firmware had actually changed. I found a section on Drobo Dashboard called “status”. It gave the serial number of the Drobo and it gave the firmware version: 1.3.7. Huh? I had downloaded and applied the 1.4.1 firmware update no less than a dozen times.

I went back to the Drobo site and downloaded the release notes for the firmware update. I came across this little gem buried deep in the commentary:

Fixed Drobo firmware update failure when Drobo is connected via FireWire

Sigh. The Drobo was connected to my Mac via FireWire. I could have repeated the firmware update thousands of times without a change in outcome. Drobo does not apply firmware updates when connected via FireWire. At least not prior to this firmware update.

I connected the Drobo via USB to my Mac. Applied the firmware update.

After four hours, I had green lights.

Not a great first impression.

That said, the Drobo is now working fine and backing up my data. But really, shipping out new machines with old firmware? No mention on the support pages that you cannot use FireWire to update your old firmware until after you update to the new firmware?

That part is a big fail.

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