Can a Drobo Replace WHS Drive Extender? Part 3

Drobo_Right_Angle_HiThe last two Drobo reviews have been written around the question, “Could you replace Drive Extender in a WHS with a Drobo?”  This one will focus on some of the additional features that comes with a Drobo to wrap up the series.  I’ll increase the capacity of a Drobo to almost 5TB, spend some time with new volumes, look closer at the Drobo Dashboard and do a complete format and new volume with the larger drives.  Let’s get started.

We left of in Part 2 with the first two bays changed to 1TB drives and drives 3 and 4 with 80GB drives.  Now to complete the drive upgrade.

I removed the 3rd 80GB hard drive and installed 1.5 TB Drive.  Took about 2 minutes to format and show as ready.  Did the same for the 4rd drive.  Same result.

Advanced controls after 1st 15TB drive installed Drobo Dashboard after 1st 15TB drive installed
Advanced controls after 2nd 15TB drive installed Drobo Dashboard after 2nd 15TB drive installed

Now that all the drive are in, here is the Dashboard.  4.5GB of available space!  You can see that 1.17 is unallocated.  That means we need to create a new volume (since we only created a 2TB volume in Part 1) so that space can be used.  More on that farther down.

Drobo Dashboard with all drives installed

And a peek at the WHS.  Not much has changed here.

Advanced Admin Console with the Drobo Full


Creating a New Volume

From the Drobo Advanced Controls – Tools, Select Format…

Advanced Controls Format

Speaking of the Drobo Dashboard…I will not cover them in depth, but there are some utilities available in this dashboard that can be very helpful.

  1. You can blink the lights on the Drobo to make sure they are working, much like on your car when you start it.
  2. Put the Drobo in Standby.  The WHS starts to panic if you do this while the server is running.
  3. The Reset button takes the Drobo back to factory defaults.
  4. Rename Drobo and Volumes does just that.  In case you don’t like what you pick the first time around.

Ok, back to the review…

Then Select Reboot Drobo now.  This was a bit scary at first, since I had no idea what would happen next.

Reboot to add more

The lights on the drive blinked and flashed and the Drobo disconnected and rebooted.  This took about 1 minute.

No drobo detected

Not a huge surprise, the WHS threw and error message and could no longer see the Drobo.  This cleared as well when the Drobo connect again.

Note: The file conflicts were caused when I added the last drive to the Drobo.  I’m sure a reboot of the WHS would clear this up.

WHS when the Drobo reboots

After a few moments, the Drobo came back and began formatting the new volume.  The drive lights on the Drobo were green but the blue lights across the bottom of the box (they indicate how full the unit is) were now dark.  Back to the Advanced Controls – tools tab and format option.

Format Options

I am going to select Format the new volume only and take the defaults for the drive letter and rename the volume to Drobo 2.  Select next.

New Volume Format

Select Format

Format Volume 2


Format in Progress

After the format is complete, the WHS adds a new Unmanaged Disk to the available drives.  [Click on the image for a larger version]  I then just added that volume to the pool.

WHS Pool after new volume is added
WHS Pool after new volume is added2


NOTE:  It is worth nothing here that I just used a feature in DE to add this second volume to the overall pool on the WHS.  In the next version of WHS, that will not be available.  We will see in the next section that there is a better way to do this from the beginning.

After all is said and done, here is the Drobo Dashboard with 2 volumes present.

Drobo with 2 Volumes

Because I ended up with two volumes, this would not have been ideal for a DE replacement solution.  Let’s see what happens if we go a different route?


A Restart – With Larger Drives Now

When I started this review series, I started it with 80GB hard drives.  At the time, the only option I received for a volume size was 2TB.  Not very practical if one was to use this to replace DE. 

For the review, I moved all the data that had been on the Drobo back over to an external 500GB hard drive and left the Drobo empty.  I wanted to be able to format it and not lose any data!

Here is how it looked from the WHS and the Drobo

Server Storage with Drobo removed

Drobo Dashboard removed from WHS and empty

Selected Format from the Drobo Dashboard

Confirm Format

Going to select NTFS for Windows 2003 and Vista again.

Format Options2

This time I get the options that I really want.  The ability to create a single 16TB volume.  I am selecting the entire 16TB for my volume.  This will be important when we look at using the Drobo with Vail minus DE!

Volume Options2

And it creates a new drive letter and formats the drives.

Dashboard Drive Letter

Format in Progress

In the WHS console, the drives actually disappear from the Server Storage console as the 2 x 2TB drives and reappear as 1 x 16TB.  A single volume.

Server Storage with 16TB Volume

With the new space available, I am going to add it back into the WHS data pool and move the data from the 500GB external drive on to it by removing it from the pool. It’s a data swap!

Here is a final shot of the WHS with the new volume. 

Server Storage with 16TB Volume Added

Drobo Dashboard with 16TB

Notice how the fundamentals of the pie chart changes in the WHS console.  It now shows the smaller slice as the free space (2.4TB) and the large part as the rest of the Drobo volume that does not have drive space allocated to it.  A different way of looking at it.  The Drobo Dashboard has changed as well. 



So after a ton of testing, writing and posting, can the question of can a Drobo be used to replace Drive Extender?  While I think it is safe to say that it would be unnecessary to do this with v1 of WHS (mostly because the functionality we are looking at  is already built in) I think it is safe to say that I am excited about testing with with WHS Vail Beta 3 that has drive extender removed.  There still consideration that need to be made with cost and speed, but it is possible and looks very easy to use. 

My personal opinion is this, the Drobo is one of the easiest drive enclosures I have ever used.  If I had a family member who needed a data solution and I didn’t want to use a WHS, I would have no problems recommending and supporting a remote install of a Drobo.  It is seriously bulletproof.

At the time of this writing, WHS Vail Beta 3 is still not publicly available.  When it does become GA, I will install it and test it with a Drobo S.  There is more to come.

Jim Collison is a blogger and podcaster for and

Full Disclosure – Drobo provided an evaluation unit with drives for this review.

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