The perfect Disk Backup for Virtualized Backups?

b1200i

There are many storage solutions on the market that are geared for the small to medium sized business (SMB). But few of those offerings incorporate the same types of storage management features and functionality that are enterprise class worthy. Meet the Drobo B1200i. A highly intuitive to use and manage external storage array that comes packed with hardware features and software functionality that formerly used to be found only in the privileged domain of the enterprise data center.

As Storage Switzerland pointed out in a recent paper, it is an ideal backup target for vendors looking to leverage recovery in place features available from VMware specific backup applications. That said, it also provides more than suitable performance so that it can serve as a production storage system for the SMB.

Flexible Deployment Options

Beyond being used as a backup target, the B1200i is an iSCSI storage array that can be used to support a variety of workloads – from virtual machine clusters to general-purpose storage. From its open bay design which allows users to easily hot swap drives, fans and power supplies, to it’s sleek and visually appealing graphical user interface, the B1200i is a user friendly product which can appeal to both the veteran storage administrator as well as the novice.

Perhaps one of the most impressive characteristics of the B1200i is its ability to support non-disruptive storage operations. For example, adding storage capacity and managing drive RAID configurations is highly flexible and capable of supporting even the most dynamic IT environments.

Elegant Storage Expansion

Thanks to advanced capabilities from their innovative BeyondRAID technology, the system can start out with as little as two drives in a mirrored RAID-1 configuration and can nimbly move to RAID-5-like (single drive failure protection) or to a dual-drive protection configuration merely by populating the unit with additional drives and selecting the desired redundancy option. In other words, there is never a need to delete a protection group, build a new protection configuration and then restore data from a backup to move from one protection type to another. The system will automatically re-layout the data and perform the changes while the system is supporting access to live data. Drobo takes this capability one step further by also allowing administrators to mix and match different drive capacities while still maintaining the desired redundancy and maximizing the usable capacity.

Automated Hybrid Performance

Likewise, the B1200i features advanced hybrid array storage intelligence through the use of Auto Tiering technology they call “Data-Aware Tiering”. Now mid-sized data centers can utilize a compliment of ultra-fast SSD alongside standard, high-capacity hard disk drives in the same array, to get an optimal mix of high performance storage and low-cost capacity storage. What makes this all come together, however, is the ability of the B1200i to intelligently move the most active data sets into the SSD tier while storing inactive data in the high density, hard disk tier. In other words, storage administrators can provide an immediate boost to performance without going through the rigors of analyzing storage I/O statistics and re-tuning the storage array; something that most SMB administrators don’t have the time to do anyway. The result is the medium sized enterprise can benefit from the same hybrid array storage solutions that are typically only found in larger enterprise data centers.

Storage Switzerland put the B1200i to the test by deploying a hybrid configuration in our labs. We ran a battery of tests which included doing continuous SQL writes for a 50 minute period. The first test was performed on a single parity (RAID-5) configuration of 3x2TB drives and then a second test was performed after adding 3x230GB SSD drives to the array. With the compliment of SSD drives added to the array, the B1200i was able to complete the tests in half the time of the hard disk drive only configuration.

Selective Storage Allocation

Another example of the advanced software feature functionality available to the B1200i user is the “Smart Volume” technology. To help ensure that limited storage resources are efficiently allocated to various application owners, Smart Volumes support the thin provisioning of storage volumes.

For example, if a database administrator requests 1TB of storage capacity, the storage administrator can logically allocate 500GB’s, however, to the application owner, it will appear that the database now has 1TB of additional storage space. The administrator can then incrementally increase the real physical capacity over time, as the database actually needs it. This helps to maintain storage efficiencies and ensure that storage space is not needlessly wasted.

Moreover, as data is deleted on the B1200i array, Smart Volumes will reclaim this space and return it to the shared storage pool for future allocation. Further easing storage administration and helping to ensure that storage space is not orphaned or isolated to any single virtual machine or physical host.

Intelligently Intuitive

One of the more daunting tasks for storage administrators is getting through the learning curve of managing a new storage system. As part of our product analysis, we purposely left the user manual in the box and began integrating the B1200i out-of-the box, just to see how intuitive the system was to use. We found that the B1200i is as plug-and-play as it gets. The GUI management software installed in a couple of minutes and quickly auto-discovered all the system resources as soon as it was attached to the workstation it was connected to.

The GUI presents a high definition image of the front-end and the back-end of the unit along with representations of the ports, system LEDs, drives, fans and power supplies. The initial installation consisted of 3x2TB drives, which were quickly presented in the GUI and after populating the unit with 3x230GB SSD drives, the system immediately rendered those resources on the GUI display as well.

Mix and Match Storage

Of course, end-users can choose from a variety of drive sizes (2TB/4TB) as well as drive types – SSD, SAS and SATA, and can mix and match different drives and densities within the 12 drive bay B1200i chassis. Lower density drives can also be swapped out with higher density drives without requiring data migrations, etc. In fact, we found configuring disk volumes on the B1200i easy and painless.

The B1200i supports multiple operating system environments ranging from VMware, Windows, Linux and MAC OS.

Conclusion

Mid-sized businesses looking for a cost-effective storage array may like what they see with Drobo’s B1200i. It is a feature rich offering which provides many of the bells and whistles that are typically only found on more costly, enterprise class storage systems. Many mid-sized businesses are successfully using the B1200i as a backup disk target.

As Storage Switzerland has discussed in past articles, one of the shortcomings of disk backup appliances is the lack of a fast storage tier, like SSD, to support “data-in-place recoveries”. Some VMware specific backup applications now enable VM recoveries directly off the backup data target. The challenge is many backup appliances are only configured with high density (4TB) drives that have very slow rotational speeds (5400 RPM). Consequently, many organizations can’t leverage their backup appliance to use this feature. With it’s support for SSD, however, the B1200i could be a viable platform for supporting data in-place recoveries, enabling organizations to get more value out of the array.

While Drobo’s B1200i is being used to great effect by mid-sized enterprises as a disk backup target, it is likely that many of their clients will find other use cases in the data center for this very flexible and feature packed offering.

Drobo is a client of Storage Switzerland

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As a 22 year IT veteran, Colm has worked in a variety of capacities ranging from technical support of critical OLTP environments to consultative sales and marketing for system integrators and manufacturers. His focus in the enterprise storage, backup and disaster recovery solutions space extends from mainframe and distributed computing environments across a wide range of industries.

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