Drobo data recovery: Conclusion


My dead Drobo saga’s conclusion…

tl;dr

  • Grades: Drobo customer support: A+. DiskWarrior: F. Disk Rescue 3: A-.
  • Don’t consider your Drobo to be hot-swappable. Ever.
  • Buy Disk Rescue 3 and have it on hand.
  • Run Disk Utility and do a Verify Disk once a month. If that’s too often for you, do it once a quarter.

Gory details

To summarize… My Drobo S (since replaced in their product lineup, I think, by the Drobo 5D) was on my laptop’s USB 3.0 bus. I did a firmware update and *poof* it turned into a brick. By “brick,” I mean that OS X couldn’t mount it and so it was inaccessible.

I acknowledge that I may have caused this by an inopportune power-cycle. I’m ashamed to admit I was doing three things simultaneously when this happened. I think I was careful but my actions are now a blur. So I can’t conclusively say it was the firmware update that triggered it — it might have been my own fumble fingers.

My first recovery action was to try OS X Disk Utility. Its device list highlighted the Drobo in red. “Verify Disk” said it needed repair, but “Repair Disk” failed to repair it. I tried running “Repair Disk” four times in a row (this was one suggestion I received, and I was willing to try anything) but it couldn’t repair it.

Drobo customer support: A+

Plan “b” was contacting Drobo customer support. The support rep was very responsive and supportive. He asked for a diagnostics dump (via the Drobo Dashboard app), then had me try a couple of things, like hooking it up to a USB 2.0 bus and trying a different computer. Alas, none of his suggestions were profitable, because this was diagnosed to not be a Drobo problem per se, but rather a file system format problem.

But I appreciated his responsiveness (within 12 hours each time, and I responded at night after I got home from work) and his being engaged. I could tell I wasn’t getting rote answers selected off a menu by some guy in the Philippines. (Or, if I was, boy is their help-desk software good!!) He asked pertinent questions, advised me on disk repair & recovery software, and “stayed with me” during the entire saga.

If anyone in the Drobo mothership is reading this, my great support rep was “Caleb D.” His communications make me more likely to consider buying a Drobo again.

DiskWarrior: F

Plan “c” was to then buy DiskWarrior, a disk repair application. This was a complete waste of time.

OS X saw the Drobo sufficiently well so that Disk Utility saw it. And Disk Utility saw it sufficiently well to allow Verify/Repair Disk operations. The Repair Disk failed after spewing out lots of diagnostic information, so it at least gave it a shot. I assumed DiskWarrior would be no less capable (and should of course be far more capable) than Disk Utility.

Well, DiskWarrior couldn’t find the Drobo! It wasn’t even listed as a disk on which I could attempt a repair! I tried running it from its stand-alone DVD on my wife’s iMac (my MBP/Retina doesn’t have an optical drive) and attaching the Drobo to the iMac’s USB 2.0 or FireWire buses. Nothing!

I couldn’t fathom how OS X and Disk Utility saw the Drobo, but DiskWarrior — even stand-alone — did not. So, I contacted their customer support.

I got back a response that gave me hope. They felt the problem would be easier to diagnose and handle if we IM’d each other in real-time when I ran DiskWarrior. They gave me a time range when they’d be available, and their IM handle. Super!

I left work early the next day and went home. (I was also sick, so I needed to leave work early anyway. I thought about postponing this and crawling into bed, but as it turns out I didn’t need to.) I got online, IM’d them, and…

Customer support is not on-line.

Customer support is not on-line.

WTF? I used the IM handle they gave me. They aren’t registered?!?

I emailed them and asked for a functional IM handle. No response! (I then crawled into bed and slept for 18 hours.)

Their product didn’t work. Their product didn’t work off a stand-alone disk. Their customer support blew me off. I’m sorry, but this earns a grade of F.

Data Rescue 3: A-

Plan “d” was my last available option, which was to rescue data off the Drobo. Reading disk data is different from repairing its file structure, and is easier in some ways while harder in others.

Data Rescue 3 comes in downloadable and bootable-CD form. I didn’t need the downloadable CD now but I bought it anyway.

Data Rescue 3 took days to read the Drobo, because it was reading a lot of data block by block. This got me thinking… The Drobo reported its capacity as 16TB, but contained only 12TB of disks. (“Only” 12TB of disks! I remember then 100MB was a universe of disk storage!) Data Rescue 3′s scan would have been faster if it knew this. Data recovery requires knowing details of the data you’re trying to recover — file systems, file types, directory headers, etc. It’s not a stretch that adding knowledge of a Drobo’s disk organization could speed up a scan.

Although it wasted time scanning non-existent blocks, it got the job done! It found all the files and I was able to restore them to my laptop. Yay!

Wrap-up

I’ve re-formatted the Drobo. I promise to not be sloppy about shutting down the Drobo. I promise to run Disk Utility on it once a month. I swear.

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