Drobo FS and Time Machine – a fix for what ails you!

So I finally splurged and ruined any semblance of positivity my bank account once possessed, and I purchased a Drobo FS.  Yes, there are competitors out there to the Drobo line of RAID-like devices, but none of them offer the hands-off, minds-off approach that Data Robotics takes with their products.  For me, it was a no-brainer, quite literally.

I managed to procure two 2-terabyte drives, plus two 1.5-terabyte drives, and I have one slot left over for when I eventually decide to cannibalize one of my destined-to-fail-again WD World Books.  This combination gave me about 4.5 terabytes of useable storage for backups (using single-drive-failure-protection), which is plenty for my movie collection, Time Machine backups, and Windows 7 backups to boot, all of which work great without a single hitch except for one… the infernal Time Machine.

Look up ‘Time Machine problem’ in Google, and you’ll get a billion hits of pure hell.  Things have gotten better over time however, especially as Time Machine matures as a product… heck, you can almost trust your data with it!  Well, almost (be sure to backup your photos separately just in case, and don’t say I didn’t warn you)… caveat emptor!

Regardless, I still wanted to get Time Machine working with the Drobo FS, and luckily Data Robotics has a handy guide for it right on their site, and it works like a charm!  Time Machine will work for the initial backup, and everything will look great.  There is only one problem you might come across after getting all of this set up, and after the initial backup is complete:  The next time you boot your mac (whether its a reboot or a cold start, doesn’t matter), it takes a good 30 seconds or so for the Drobo FS partitions to mount to your Mac’s desktop if you are connecting to the Drobo FS over WiFi.  This in itself is not an issue and once they are mounted they work great, however for Time Machine, the delay can pose a threat.

If Time Machine is enabled, it will look (more or less) right away for the network drive (hosted by your Drobo FS) in order to do a backup.  Since the drive isn’t mounted yet, this initial search will fail, and Time Machine will report that the “Backup disc [is] not available“.  No big deal, right?  Give it a minute for the Drobo network drives to mount, and it should be all good, right?  Wrong… and herein lies the problem.  Once the drives mount, you can try to initiate a manual backup through Time Machine, however Time Machine will still not see the drives, and will report the same error.

The drives are there… you can click on them, you can even mount your initial Time Machine backup manually to view its contents, however the Time Machine program itself refuses to see the drives after its initial check, and it will refuse to do any more backups.  This is how I “fixed” the problem (at present time it’s more of a work-around, and be sure that the Time Machine menu is in your mac’s menu bar for these directions to make sense):

Disable Time Machine via Time Machine’s preferences (just flip the switch to ‘off’).  Then reboot your mac, and wait for the Drobo FS drives to mount (they’ll pop up on your desktop when they are done mounting).  Once the drives are there and available, you can then click the drop-down from the Time Machine menu (now grayed out, since it is “off”), and click ‘Back Up Now’ to initiate a manual backup.  You see, even though Time Machine is off, it can still work in a manual fashion – ‘Off’ just means that automatic backups are off, not the functionality of the Time Machine itself.  If you plan on leaving your mac on for a while, you can even open up the Time Machine preferences and turn it back ‘on’ while you are working – just be sure to turn it back off again before you shut down or reboot, so that you can avoid an extra reboot to get it working with the Drobo share again.

Does it suck?  Yeah, kind of.  I’m going to report a ticket to Apple so they are at least aware of this (what I believe to be) bug with the Time Machine software.  Until then, this is a good way of avoiding some frustration… Just don’t forget to backup!!!

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One thought on “Drobo FS and Time Machine – a fix for what ails you!

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