DroboCare from Drobo: bleah

I bought a Drobo about a year ago. Recently I got this pop-up window:

DroboCare warranty service by Drobo

Wait a second — I bought this storage device, and now want me to extend my license “to continue to receive the latest updates”? If you go to the url mentioned in the pop-up, you see that for $49 for a year’s coverage, you get

Continued access to software updates to Drobo Dashboard, Drobo Firmware and DroboShare Firmware including performance enhancements and new features.

Both the program pop-up and the web page imply that I need to pay $49 to continue to get firmware updates. That’s extremely uncool. The ironic part is that apparently Drobo changed their mind in February and they won’t make you pay for firmware updates now. It’s been a month; why does the DroboCare web page still imply that you have to pay $49/year for firmware updates? They need to fix that ASAP, because people appear to be confused by the language.

Let me tell you a little story: back in the 90s, before eBay existed, I was a poor college student who wanted to connect a CD recorder to his computer. I bought a used Adaptec SCSI card over Usenet. When the SCSI card arrived, the four floppy disks of driver software were scrambled. When I tried to get drivers from Adaptec, I learned that Adaptec charged for the drivers for that SCSI card. I never bought another Adaptec product again. The End.

So I don’t plan to buy any more Drobos in the future. Why would I buy from a company that tried to charge me for firmware updates for my consumer hardware? Sure, Drobo changed their mind after people complained, but the fact that Drobo even considered it will make me avoid them in the future.

Update: read this blog comment by Jillian Mansolf from Drobo. Evidently Drobo’s Sarbanes-Oxley auditors classified Drobo as a software company. The auditors “wanted us to recognize revenue for Drobo over the ‘life’ of the warranty (forever) if we included performance enhancements through free software updates.” DroboCare only pertains to hardware as of January, so a future version of the DroboDashboard software will remove this pop-up. Read the comment for more about this from Drobo.

35 Responses to DroboCare from Drobo: bleah (Leave a comment)

  1. Thanks for the heads up. I got a Drobo a few months ago and love it. Have been recommending it. Now I am going to think twice. Hope they clear this up. I know times are tough but seriously!

  2. I agree. It´s not good business when a company figures you are stuck on their product and therefore likely to want to continue and ¨sliding in a new need for payment should work¨.
    Good business practices and customer service spread like wildfire. Something like this will cause the opposite effect.

  3. What a ripoff and bad PR. Funny I had the same experience back then with the Adaptec SCSI card deal. I had salvaged a card but had no drivers. Steered clear of Adaptec after that.

  4. joeperro

    I think you are stirring things up without reason. I own two of these things. Didn’t you hear that they changed their policy in January? Firmware updates are FREE. Maybe your spam filter is too aggressive.

  5. Ed

    Companies spend a tremendous amount of money, thought, effort, and stress trying to attract customers.

    This is akin to extortion; pay us more, or we’ll retroactively decrease the value
    of what you purchased in the daylight. Accelerated/threatened obsolescence?

    The modern internet has given consumers a real voice for the first time.
    I hope this accountability reaches all, and not just guys as sharp/front lines as Matt.

  6. Its a kind of trick… i concluded that they not a good company then. What they’re after is just your money.

  7. I am of the same mind. Hardware companies should not be charging for updates. I realize that we’ve all become a Microsoft consumer (expecting the hardware to malfunction), but there are some standards that should remain. I am remembering how my grandparents would never accept a poor product, even with the promise of continual repairs in the future. When did we become a consumer base who accepts inherent “bugs?”

  8. I’m glad I saw this, I’ve been seriously considering the Drobo but I want them to now guarantee that they’ll never do this again before I consider them.

    It’s frustrating how few good options there are out there for this kind of thing, if there were legitimate competition they’d not get away with this.

  9. “Didn’t you hear that they changed their policy in January?”

    joeperro, the only way I heard about DroboCare was the pop-up on my computer followed by the web page that seemed to ask for $49 for firmware updates.

  10. Matt Winfield

    I think the same thing carries over into Video Games and putting ridiculous DRM that doesn’t even prevent the game from being pirated and really only hurts the consumer. That’s why games like Spore got pirated so much. People didn’t want to pay for something that could only be installed a limited amount of times.

    So what did they do? They pirated it. The very thing that DRM was supposed to prevent.

  11. I considered getting a Drobo, but the prices and capacity put me off; now I’m working out how I want my OpenSolaris installation configured, using ZFS.

    My experiments in virtual machines showed it works pretty well. OpenSolaris itself could do with a lot of sprucing up – particularly with silly things like termcap and terminfo settings etc. – but ZFS is worth the minor pain of having to fix those things.

  12. I had a (kind of) similar “firmware experience”, with Cisco. A few years ago I bought a Cisco IP-phone (7940) to use it with VoIP (SIP). The SIP-protocol was on the feature list of this phone. But when I installed the phone,it did not work with SIP. Cisco (and its resellers) support staff told me (after my purchase of the phone) that it is theoretically possible for this phone to “speak” SIP, but for that I have to purchase an additional firmware license (SIP-license) to get an additional firmware.

    I never purchased any Cisco device, again.

  13. >> Sure, Drobo changed their mind after people complained,
    >> but the fact that Drobo even considered it will make me avoid
    >> them in the future.

    Dear Matt, It is natural for any person/company to make mistakes. I would like to judge a company by how they learn from those mistakes rather than the fact that they made one.
    In this case, Drobo listened to the customers, found that they were unhappy with their new policy and was ready to change it. For me that is the best signal any company can give me – that they are ready to change themselves for me. That is great service. But I accept that the fact that they haven’t changed their web page accordingly is quite a failure.

  14. Dave (original)

    Matt, you should really find out ALL the facts before running a business down. You know your blog is read by many thousands a day so you ALONE could easily put a small company out of business. Uncool.

  15. It’s crazy, isn’t it.

    The days when companies used to actually worry about keeping customers happy so they would come back time and time again seem to be gone – instead the goal these days seems to be to extract the maximum cash upfront, and then forget the customer even exists.

    Influential or not, everyone has a right to voice their opinion, and perhaps if we were all a little more vocal in complaining, there would be fewer sharks out there – and more fish?

  16. Shows the Danger in letting MBA’s who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing screw up a company.

  17. David

    I had a problem with my Drobo waking up from standby whenever I put my Mac to sleep. This in turn, would wake my Mac up. So it was in a constant sleep/wake loop.

    What did Drobo Care tell me to do? Unmount and disconnect my Drobo each and every time my Mac goes to sleep. They said to also change the hard drives out in the Drobo unit. So much for it ‘just working’. And pretty rubbish solution they gave me.

    I’d never get a Drobo again. It doesn’t do what it says on the box.

  18. Matt, my understanding on reading the Google Mini faq is that purchasing a Google Mini provides 2 years of software updates – upon the end of that period if you want to continue to receive updates you must actually buy a new mini. Am I wrong? If not by the same measure, would you never buy a Google product?

    http://www.google.com/support/mini/bin/answer.py?answer=15775&ctx=sibling

  19. Hampstead

    Felix – touché

  20. Jillian Mansolf

    Hi Matt, We’d like to clarify the policy because there has been some confusion out there. DroboCare ONLY pertains to the hardware itself as of January.

    I’ d like to say that we were as surprised as anyone when we were classified as a “software company” by our auditors who wanted us to recognize revenue for Drobo over the “life” of the warranty (forever) if we included performance enhancements through free software updates. Why? In two words – Sarbanes-Oxley (I’ll address that more in a minute).

    We effectively changed our policy regarding DroboDashboard in January (before we EVER released a single firmware upgrade that included “enhancements”). This means that EVERY Drobo customer has ALWAYS received EVERY firmware update we’ve EVER released for FREE. After agreement from our auditors, our new policy (January) made DroboDashboard “freeware” available to anyone who wants it. This means anyone who uses DroboDashboard receives all enhancements and upgrades – FOR FREE.

    Sarbanes-Oxley: There have been many articles and significant opposition from small and large companies about SO (you work for Google – check with you finance team – we are not exaggerating here). You literally can not give away “for free services” without significant revenue recognition impact. Many think that Sarbanes-Oxley is the single biggest threat to Silicon Valley start ups. Don’t take our word for it: Google the following: Sarbanes-Oxley Killing Small Businesses.

    Lastly, because we get this question a lot we’d like to address it. People seem to think because we are private, we do not need to abide by general accounting and auditing rules. Well, our investors and venture partners almost insist on it. They want to know where every penny of their money is being spent ☺ – so there is no rest for ANY venture backed firm in relation to Sarbanes-Oxley (or general accounting rules) – period. In fact, I’d argue we have to clear an even higher hurdle on many accounting rules and regulations. You can imagine that in this environment, everyone is incredibly cautious.

    In the end, we are just a start up trying to make great products and truly spend every day doing the best we can to deliver the best experience possible for our customers. If someone thinks we were trying to pump revenue into the business or get rich by charging $49 for a software support contract — we weren’t. We spent 100’s of man hours and more $$$ than we probably should of (lawyers and auditors) trying find a reasonable solution to protect our customers. In the end I‘m hoping you think we have.

    Oh – once we release a new version of Dashboard (that everyone can get FOR FREE) you will no longer receive that pesky message.

    Sorry for any confusion – - we hope you still like your Drobo !!

    Jillian Mansolf – Data Robotics

  21. sam

    @felix: Nice one!

  22. felix, there’s a ton of difference between a product for businesses vs. for home consumers. That’s exactly why I used the phrase “consumer hardware” in my post.

  23. Jillian Mansolf, thanks for stopping by to comment. Your auditors classified you as software company? That’s truly bizarre. If possible, it would be wonderful if you could give Drobo customers some sort of additional context at http://www.drobo.com/buydrobocare/ . Right now, the people that lack that context feel like they’re getting a hard sell.

  24. Funny, I plugged my Drobo into my Linux box and don’t seem to need any fancy software to use it. :-)

  25. I was in the same boat as you. Bought the Drobo and then had the “You’ve got to be kidding me!” moment when I saw the same message about the updates.

    Total B.S. — I stopped recommending their product.

  26. Ian M

    I bought a QNAP NAS a year ago (TS-209 Pro) – they’re pretty good with updates and have a fairly healthy forum (I looked at the support forums of various providers first before purchasing).

    Only thing I sort of regret is getting a NAS before the Atom ones existed :) although if I were to get a NAS now, I might look at a DIY system using some open source software e.g. FreeNAS (not sure how good it is though).

    Drobo thinking they’re a software company… eh?

  27. Dave (original)

    felix, there’s a ton of difference between a product for businesses vs. for home consumers.

    So one market is OK to screw, while the other is not?

  28. Matt —

    If only they knew … or paid attention.

    As a geek, I provide free computer consulting for family, friends, my kids’ after-school program, etc.

    I have vehemently, venomously and vigorously discouraged anyone from ever using McAffee or Norton AV because nag-ware, upsell, subscription oriented services for such a critical function are just … wrong. I also manage this stuff for the various companies I have worked with. Several hundred copies of these programs have been uninstalled because I got a hair across my butt for some reason a while back.

    I have used Quicken since it was a DOS-based checkbook balancing tool. I still use it, but I discourage every person I know who wants to start tracking finances online from using it, because they have done a bad job and failed to live up to my expectations, even having paid only $40 or less a year. They used to rock (especially when they took on MS and won), but now they suck.

    I am a developer, and respect the desire for someone to make a buck. But I am far more inclined to click a “Donate” paypal link than continue to use software that nags me.

    I don’t think I am alone.

  29. I have vehemently, venomously and vigorously discouraged anyone from ever using McAffee or Norton AV because nag-ware, upsell, subscription oriented services for such a critical function are just … wrong. I also manage this stuff for the various companies I have worked with. Several hundred copies of these programs have been uninstalled because I got a hair across my butt for some reason a while back.

    You could just discourage anyone from using McCrappy or Norton because they suck. That’s a sufficient reason unto itself. ;)

    Seriously, dude, I totally agree with this. When you’re talking a service that people need to have continually updated for protection reasons, then these companies should respect this and not gouge the consumer or end user for at least $29.95 USD every 12 months.

    I don’t mind if they charge for a customer care/support package. That’s one thing. People call in. Even if the program is upgraded significantly once per year with new features and the consumer can choose to buy the new program or keep the old program without consequence…okay, that’s cool. But in the case of providing security updates to a program…that’s way too greedy.

  30. Jay

    Interesting that data robotics were classified as a “software company” by their auditors, and due to Sarbanes-Oxley they had to charge.
    Given that Data Robotics Inc is privately held and SOX only applies to public companies, this seems fishy …

  31. Dave (original)

    You have to stand-back and look at the big picture, though. E.g. 1 software product might be x dollars less than a comparable product, but the cheaper might have paid updates, while the other (more expensive) are all free.

    Also, the paid updates MAY just ensure the security updates are at least up-to-date, or 1 step ahead. While the freebies MAY just release updates every quarter and leave you exposed for Months.

    While it all seems simple to just go with the free updates and free software, it may not be the most prudent in the long run. As with most things in life, you generally get what you pay for, thanks to “free” markets. Well, our markets USED to “free” up until 1 Year ago ;)

  32. Hank Roberts

    Funny, I bought an Adaptec SCSI product once myself.

    They promised for three years that they were going to eventually get it to work with my Apple G3 Pismo.

    I checked a few months ago. They still promise.

  33. Ved

    Wonderful…… I was in the same boat as you. Bought the Drobo and then had the “You’ve got to be kidding me!” moment when I saw the same message about the updates.

  34. KFC

    AFAIK SOX applies to public companies. “It does not apply to privately held companies. ” DRI is 100% private. What is the point of steering our attention away to “silicon valley start ups”, from the mere fact that DRI was, at one point in time, trying so hard to milk consumers to renew software license every year for the hardware appliance we purchased from DRI. Nevertheless, I welcome the decision the folks in DRI have made by making future firmware/drobodashboard updates free *FOR NOW*.

  35. Jack

    I own a small consulting business and bought the Drobo and Drobo Share
    It is too noisey!! Did they ever test the equipment!
    We had to move it to another room.
    I usually upgrade every 5 years but I’ll be getting rid of the Drobo sooner.

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