The Cross-Platform Drobo Conundrum

I have just received a nice Firewire Drobo with 4x1TB drives at work. In addition I got a pair of 500 GB LaCie external drives with USB & FireWire interfaces.

I asked on Twitter what was the best way to format these devices such that they could be accessible from both Windows and Macintosh machines. Due to the 140 character limitations of twitter I did not give more details about my environment. None the less I got some fabulous responses. Basically they fall under two options:

- Format the drive for one platform and network share it with the other platform. This can be done either using a drobo share unit, or have one computer sharing it to the others.

- Format the drive for one platform and use a special driver to read it on the other platform. Specifically, I hear good things about using MacDrive to access Mac drives from Windows machines.

I failed to give some background info about my situation, so here it goes. I am working with large proprietary audio files. I have weeks worth of recordings. (currently a little over 100 GB) Each individual file consits of 4 channels of data and is roughly half a gigabyte in size. Due to the large volume of data I would rather process it as fast as possible. In the past I have used a NetGear ReadyNAS NV+ unit over the network. Working off from a USB LaCie drive has proven to be several times faster than over the network. Even though I do have a drobo share device I would rather not use it in a day to day basis.

Here are some of my constraints:

a) The overwhelming majority of the computers at work are WinXP PCs, with only a handful of Macs. (this makes me very sad, and so I try to put on a good fight with the powers that be)

b) The majority of the PCs are managed (not by me), which means most of my users can not install any software on their machines. It also means, these machines can only be on the official network (which goes to the internet). Non-managed machines (i.e. the ones where I can install stuff) have no direct access to the internet (sneaker net only…<sigh>)

Most of our work is (also sadly) done in Matlab.

If this were my call and I had control of all machines, I would probably install MacDrive (after some testing) on all WinXP machines that needed access to the data. So the drives would all be formated in HFS+. Since I can not install software in a large number of PCs, This is not an option. Because of networking policies, I can not share the drobo (or the LaCie drives) to the managed PCs (are you getting a sense that I hate managed PCs? because I do, you know)

So I will try the following setup. I will format all drives as NTFS partitions. This means most machines (both managed and non-managed PCs) will be able to access the data natively. The question is what to do with Macs (and Linux boxes). The main purpose of the drobo is to be the central repository of stuff… I think I will not work on it day to day per se. So if I need to use it on a mac I can put is on a non-mananged network and share ir via drobo share. It will not be as fast I would like but it should work much┬álike the ReadyNAS NV+ has in the past. For regular operations I will try connecting the LaCie Drives via MacFUSE & NTFS-3G which claims to be stable now. It is a little risky, but the LaCies should have reduntant data, they are merely a carrying convenience. If I blowup all the data (hopefully not) I still have the data on the drobo.

I welcome any ideas and/or suggestions. This is by no means written in stone yet, and the data sets have not yet grown to unmanageble size (which I’m sure they will eventually). Please drop me comments here or tweet me at @josevazquez.

Now… off to do some crossplatform git revision controlling! Ahh… the fun never ends!

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2 Comments on “The Cross-Platform Drobo Conundrum”


  1. Hi, Jose! This is Tom from Data Robotics. That’s a great question and it’s a question we hear quite often. It’s of course really unfortunate that the best file systems HFS+ and NTFS are not compatible between OS X and Windows platforms. Your research is pretty much spot on. There is of course another option which is to format the drive FAT32 which is readable and writable by both platforms, but has other limitations around lack of journaling and a 2TB per volume size limit. MacDrive may be your best option. Another option could be connecting Drobo via FW800 or USB 2.0 to a computer (say the Mac) and then sharing it through the OS to the other computer’s on the network because that will take advantage of the Mac’s CPU to process the data into packets and that should be relatively quick, especially if you’re running on a GigE network and even better if you Jumbo Frames (MTU 9000) set for all your computers and all your gear and cabling is compatible.


  2. What did you end up doing? I just ordered the Drobo and I’m looking at a similar setup, though with far fewer computers (2 Macs and a PC).


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