Drobo’s 5D3 Was a Disaster. What Should I Switch To?


You guys, I'm really frustrated at the moment so first of all, I'm really sorry if this post comes off as being whiny.  I bought a new Drobo.  It won't work and Drobo is putting next to no effort into helping me fix their product that I spent $700 on.

I just got off the phone with Drobo customer support again.  They put me on hold for almost 20 minutes and then, again, told me they'd take my case to advanced support.  I've been working with their support for two weeks and they are yet to give me a refund OR help me with my issue.  I can't return it now and I'm stuck with a non-working $700 product and a company who refuses to take care of their customer.

I really don't like blog posts like this one.  I usually think people are too quick to get angry with companies instead of giving them the benefit of the doubt.  Yet, I do feel like Drobo isn't treating me fairly.  This blog post isn't just a rant–it's a question and I'm hoping you'll give me answers in the comments.  First, is this a fluke, or does Drobo treat all of their customers this way?  Second, if Drobo is no longer the solution for me, what should I switch to?

Here's the story: I got a new iMac Pro (Ouch!  That one hurt the wallet!) and so I also bought the new Drobo 5D3 with a Thunderbolt 3 connection.  I have used Drobo for years and owned two of the previous generation Drobos.  However, I noticed that the new Drobo felt really sluggish, so I ran some diagnostics.  In the image above, you'll see I'm getting 47mb/second write, and 73mb/second read times.  That's incredibly poor performance.

I then contacted customer support.  Here's how it (predictably) went:

  • Immediate auto-reply from Drobo “Your concerns are important to us. A support representative will respond to your inquiry as quickly as possible.”
  • Two days later, an email from Drobo that essentially says “Turn it off and turn it on again (I'd obviously tried this), take a screenshot of your speed test (I'd already done this once…), and send us a diagnostics file.”  I humored them and did this within 24 hours.
  • Three more days later (after a few additional marketing messages and auto replies), I get an email saying this has been sent to advanced support.
  • Five days later, still no reply from advanced support so I call in.
  • Phone customer support says “Turn it on and off, try reseating the cable, do diagnostics again, run another speed test.”  I'd already done this multiple times by now.  He isn't sure, so he says he'll reach out to advanced support and call me that afternoon.
  • No returned call that afternoon.
  • Three days later, a one-liner email saying “Sorry for the delay, I reached out to advanced support again.”
  • One more day later, an email that essentially says, “Uh…. try a different cable (we already tried that), send another diagnostics file (ANOTHER?!?!?)…try a new computer.”  Ugh.
  • I call in again.  Twenty minutes on hold.  I tell them, “Hey, I'm not trying to be a pain here, but I need you to either refund me or fix this product before I hang up today.”  Blah blah.  Same stuff as before.  “It will take time to get a solution.  I'll reach out to advanced support.”  That's when I told them that I'd spend that time writing this blog post to tell other photographers about how they are treating their customers.

I did something I promised myself I'd never do.  I pulled the “Do you know who you're talking to” card.  Ack.  Embarrassing.  I'm embarrassed for myself.  I said, “Okay, if you're going to take another couple days on this, I'll spend that time writing a blog post to the 1 million followers of Improve Photography about how you treat your customers.”  Disgusting.  My comment was arrogant and pompous…. but I was desperate.  Can you all forgive me?  Yikes.  It was NOT my finest moment.

So now I have a career's worth of photos on a device that I paid $700 for, which isn't working properly.  I tried desperately to get Drobo customer support to care about me as a customer even a little bit, but they couldn't care any less.  I completely understand that sometimes things go wrong with a product and that I might have a fluke issue, but it doesn't seem like they are being fair.

I went to Youtube to see if others were having the same experience with slow speeds on the Drobo 5D3 when I came across this video of Drobo's CEO Mihir Shah telling Scott Kelby about how they are really focusing on the customer experience and good customer support. It kind of felt like a kick in the pants.

So… Now What Do I Do?

I don't know what the answer is here.  I'm looking for you guys to give me some advice.  Am I being too impatient with Drobo and should just wait it out?  Or have I seen enough to know that Drobo does not care about me as a customer and I should go elsewhere?

What's better than Drobo?  Promise? Gtech? LaCie? OWC?  WD?  IDK!  I read our review of Drobo vs Synology and I'm interested in that now…  I just want something that works with Thunderbolt 3, allows me to use drives of different sizes, and where the company actually cares about their customers.

What have you guys found that works best?



27 thoughts on “Drobo’s 5D3 Was a Disaster. What Should I Switch To?”

  1. Jim, I would avoid the phone like the plague. Instead, I would find out who the head of the company is so I could send this article to that individual. I wouldn’t settle without a refund and/or a better deal on the products they sell.

  2. Drobo’s products in general receive mediocre reviews on Amazon (at least the ones that I’ve considered). And it does seem that the complaints largely center around terrible customer support that seems to be of the, “If I stop responding, maybe they’ll leave me alone,” variety.

    Here are some Amazon review quotes:

    “Customer service was so bad it was like they were trying to make the issue worse, and trying to make me more upset. It’s ridiculous how bad customer service was. I contacted Drobo customer service, saying my 5C is slow even though it is recognized as usb3, and I uncluded a screenshot showing the system information window that verified it is recognized as usb 3. Customers service replies, “please make sure it’s plugged in as a usb3 device”. Horrible, considering I said it’s usb3 AND included a screen shot!!! Then they took about 2 days to reply after that. I got so frustrated with the Drobo and their amazingly poor customer service that once I completed copying my 8tb to the Drobo, I walked away and didn’t look at it for 2 days.”

    By the way, for that guy, it was running system maintenance, and just leaving it alone a few days solved it.

    “…Once the product fails it is impossible to get any help from Drobo customer support. You are on your own. Its been three weeks since the failure and I have not heard back from the support staff…”

    “Called drobo support and no help they didn’t even know what was going on. Did a support ticket and almost two weeks later no one got back with me. Support staff had no idea what was going on and didn’t even want to log into my computer to see if could help. I’m returning this to Amozon and getting money back.”

    “If there was a no star rating , that is what I would provide. 1- support has been useless 2- unit only gets 37MBs transfers…”

    “My Drobo failed and their customer service is terrible!”

    “… I purchases a Drobo DAS in May 2016, it stopped mounting on my mac pro. the company did not honor warranty, referring me to buy a third party software to revive it. I wasted $130 on the software but still could not mount. The unit is bad. Support did not offer a solution. I complained to BBB. the company so blatant they did not respond to BBB.”

    That’s from one product, but the general consensus seems to be that their support just isn’t any good. Their CEO probably said that BECAUSE they’re known to be bad, and he probably does want to turn things around, but the culture is probably just bad. They don’t have accountability, or they underpay their staff, or their short-staffed, or something. I get that you’re not going to get great customer support when you buy the cheapest thing you find on Amazon, but that’s not the case with Drobo, they sell a premium product, but they don’t seem to back it up.

  3. Wow… That sounds freaking horrible. Thanks for the heads up. I guess I’ll be going with Synology. That kind of customer care would be completely unacceptable for anyone that is relying on the device for professional use.

    I do hope your problem gets resolved. I would have added “quickly” to the end of that, but it seems like that particular boat sailed a long time ago.

  4. Perhaps Drobo customer service sucks because the CS staff is overwhelmed with high volume caused by crappy products.

  5. I highly suggest a Synology box. I have been through a few units and had a few horror stories. My Synology has been bulletproof. I am constantly traveling and it is incredible to access and backup my own cloud of raw files when I am on the road. Customer service is top notch as well!

  6. I’ve been using a Synology NAS and a OWC Thunderbay 4 (Thunderbolt 2 version) for the past 2 years and they both have been rock solid. The past 6 months I’ve been traveling and using them in an RV which is bit harsher of an environment than a fixed office, still zero problems.

  7. I have dealt with Drobo customer support twice now. Both times were the same. They take a week or more to respond to you and when they do, it’s not to offer any helpful information. I bought a Drobo 5D and added on the $300+ Drobo care and I have pretty much cut my losses and bought a Synology 1517+. It’s been great. I am continuing with support, but will only keep Drobo as a local backup secondary to my cloud backup. It’s really not worth relying on it. I already lost all my data, which happened to be my movie collection, once. My fault for not backing it up, but didn’t think the Drobo would corrupt all the data and just crash like it did the first time. I re-did all my movies and have them backed up to Backblaze now. Don’t trust Drobo.

  8. Just bought a Drobo 5d3 so feeling a bit sick at the moment. Mine is running slower than expected but not that slow.

    Still in testing and configuration phase so hopefully will work as expected.

  9. I feel your pain man! I have been dealing with the terrible Drobo customer service for the past 6 months, I bought a 5C that was never faster than 25mb/s. I tried to return it for a full refund after a week, they asked me to get it back so they could help me fix the problem, instead I dealt with their incompetence for the next 5 months. I finally received a new Drobo 5C today as a substitution and guess what? 55mb/s max speed.

  10. Just bought a Drobo 5D3 after reading quite a few review sites that said how great it was (although in retrospect none showed stats).
    I have the same problem. . . ~50MB/s Read, 75MB/s write.
    Once I started doing a search for “Drobo 5D3 slow” I found that there was a separate world of reviews from actual users with actual stats that show a pretty slow unit [but most not as slow as the results I am getting].
    I’m on hold with customer support, so will give them a couple of days, but I am going to have to notify the supplier tomorrow that the unit isn’t currently fit for purpose so I can potentially send it back before it is too late.

  11. HI,
    I too bought a DROBO 5D3 and have only just upgraded my computer system to a iMAC PRO. I had initial problems Mounting it but eventually through much trouble shooting managed to Mount the DROBO. The DROBO has been used as backup since purchase and now I am using it as a DAS. Today I noticed that it was loud. Loud enough to be annoying. It appeared to be when, after a quick research on this, that it was when my Time Machine was writing to it. The activity light was ‘flicking’. This was noted in the forum to be a tell tale sign, the flickering light with the noise of the Drobo, that there was a problem. I was just about to contact Drobo Support as I aim well within my warranty, but I have grave concerns now after reading the above comments.

  12. My experience has been very different, although I’ve only needed Drobo’s support once. I bought a 5D3 in July 2017, and had an issue with the internal fan spinning incessantly and loudly after the unit was up a few minutes. I have a 5Dt dasiychained off the 5D3 via Thunderbolt, and if I moved the 5Dt to the 5D3’s USB connection instead of TB (at Drobo’s suggestion), the fan issue disappeared. That finding kept me working until a replacement could land in a couple of days. They were very, very responsive — beginning to end, it was about a week of talking and testing, followed by the new unit. For full transparency, I hit them up via their Facebook page, rather than calling, so maybe that entry point is a little better.

  13. Same here … DROBO is crap, as is their customer service! I returned it and got a Synology 1517+ (same price) which is AWESOME!

    I have a new iMac Pro too and found out something else completely awesome … if you get a Synology 1517+ and drop a $100 10GBe card into its open PCIe slot, you can connect it directly to the 10GBe port on the back of your iMac Pro and get ~500MB/s (yes that is MB not Mb) read and write using nothing more that a standard $10 CAT 7 cable … no hub needed, just plug directly from the NAS into your iMac Pro. That is ~4Gb/s whether you are using 100′ cable or 3′ cable. That piece of crap DROBO not working was the best thing that has happened to my system in a LONG time 😉

  14. Oooh! This is interesting to me. I was looking into the Drobo 5D3, and currently have a 5D that transfers about 2.5x faster than your 5D3. Just out of curiosity, what drives are/were in your Drobo?

  15. I purchased a new iMac Pro and a Drobo 5D3 in April after reading some reviews on it (obviously, they had not dealt with customer service). I opted for the Drobo care as well. Everything worked fine until we had a brief power outage last week and all of the lights on the Drobo turned red and NADA – nothing would work and couldn’t access any of my files. My first mistake was making it my primary storage device. I contacted support who would not call me, no matter how many times I requested a phone call rather than repeated emails telling me to do the same things over and over again. Finally, they determined that my unit was bad and replaced it. I received the backup unit last night, plugged it in and everything looked great – all green lights, my data was still there and all ok. Then today, the stupid thing won’t mount. It shows in dashboard and I have gone through all the steps to reconnect it, and still nothing. So my question is – does anyone know what their return policy is? And I am in total agreement that their customer service could not get any worse!

  16. I purchased my 5D3 in April 2018 and have nothing but trouble with it since. It was unreliable at best and after a 30 second power outage last week (while plugged into a surge protector along with my iMac Pro, printer and router – all of which were fine) it was totally fried. Drobo replaced my unit because I bought the DroboCare, but the replacement unit would not mount after install. To get that one to work, I had to purchase a a $130 third-party software – not reimbursed by Drobo btw. Even after that, I have had to perform anywhere from 15-30 min of troubleshooting every morning to get the drive to mount in order to have access to my data. As a primary storage device – this is a huge FAIL! I am now trying to get it to stay mounted long enough to transfer all of the data to portable hard drives until my new Synology device arrives. The biggest disappointment with the whole system has been the customer service. It is beyond abysmal! If you buy their products, expect canned emails, and rude personnel if you happen to be lucky enough to ge them on the phone. I wish this review would matter to them, but sadly, I don’t think they give two s**ts. Happy to give more info if needed.

  17. I have a synology DS1815+ and its been rock solid. But I cannot access capture one sessions from it, and the only way I can access my files with tags and adjustments through capture one is if I make a catalogue. This is an issue that capture one doesn’t make very clear and any information on their product.
    But making the catalogue is a very time consuming and complicated process. I have 45TB of jobs and I cant access them easily. Yes, I can see the files, but the editing (due to me being a volume shooter) is a very big job in itself.
    I cant change from capture one as I shoot internationally and assistants I hire abroad – capture one is the only software that is universal. So I have been wanting to change to another way to store my files and hoped that a couple of drobos filled with 8TB drives would cover this.

  18. There’s some bizarre anecdotes about this Drobo working at USB2 speeds. (slow)
    Then working at much faster rates, IF YOU REVERSE THE USB-C.

    The USB-C can plug-in upside down.
    Worth a try.

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