Briefing Note: Drobo doubles down on SMB Data Centers

It’s been almost two years since Connected Data, the makers of the Transporter, acquired Drobo. In that time there has been some concern over the future of the Drobo product family. For the most part those concerns were ill founded. Drobo has continued to attract the attention of consumers and small business data centers, recently crossing the 300,000 units sold mark. Now Drobo is updating its B1200i solution to make it even more appropriate for the small business data center.

Moving Beyond Storage Management

At the heart of every Drobo, from the consumer-oriented Mini to the SMB data center, is innovative storage software that removes many of the chores associated with storage management. In other words, it lets consumers and businesses focus on what they want to get done instead of their storage.

First, there is BeyondRAID, it eliminates the traditional barriers of RAID. It can protect against two simultaneous drive failures while providing instant expansion, automatic rebuilds and a virtual hot spare. In other words the system takes care of itself so you don’t have to.

Second, there is DROBO’s built in thin provision and reclamation. Unlike most storage systems, a DROBO does not need to be bought fully populated with drives. A system can be purchased half full with 2TB drives and then have 4TB drives added to it later. The software is smart enough to use almost all of the available drive capacity, regardless of drive combination. That expansion is elegant. There are no carriers which have to be attached to drives. Instead, raw drives just slide into place.

Finally, the Drobo Mini, 5D, 5N and B1200i all have a hot data caching area to improve performance. The Mini, 5D and 5N do this via the use of mSATA. A slot on the bottom of the unit makes sure that the most active data is in cache at all times. We use each of these systems in our office and for our on-site video production and can tell that the 64GB mSATA cache makes a difference in performance.

The Updated B1200i

The B1200i was and still is Drobo’s SMB data center class solution. The B1200i can have up to three solid-state drives (SSDs) installed for up to 720GB of hot data cache. While the B1200i has 1GbE iSCSI, the three ports can be bonded. Testing in the Storage Switzerland lab showed that the SSDs did make a measurable performance difference with a single 1GbE connection active. Unlike DROBOs other solutions it is clearly designed to be rack mounted in a small data center.

The B1200i has been updated in a big way. The update includes a performance boost of 800%, the result of upgraded storage processors and improved efficiency in the software. The B1200i can now also support larger storage pools of 128TB and volumes can now be 64TB in size. Drobo includes iSCSI support for Windows, Mac and VMware and can now support 255 volumes per appliance. Finally, the B1200i is now certified for use with VMware vSphere ESXi 6.0.

The B1200i is targeted directly at SMB data centers looking to provide shared storage for databases, email servers and virtual environments. The hybrid functionality combined with 3GbE iSCSI connectivity should provide the appropriate amount of performance for these environments. The hybrid system, with 48TB of raw hard disk capacity and 720GB of raw SSD capacity, has a list price of $12,599. There is also a capacity focused, HDD version that provides 72TBs of raw capacity for only $13,799, ideal for backup solutions.

StorageSwiss Take

The B1200i fills a gap in today’s storage marketplace, a shared storage system that is both price competitive and eliminates the mundane storage management features that SMBs don’t have time to mess with. Drobo expects that its missing features like snapshots and clones will be provided by the storage capabilities of the hypervisor or operating system. Considering that most of these environments will be running VMware or Hyper-V, it appears like a good call. That focus allows them to stay cost competitive while providing the capabilities that the operating system or hypervisor does not.

Many SMB data centers may start by using the Drobo B1200i as backup to an existing storage infrastructure. This is an ideal way to put the B1200i to the test. We discussed how solutions like this would be an ideal fit for  Veeam environments in this article and webinar.

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Eight years ago George Crump, founded Storage Switzerland with one simple goal. To educate IT professionals about all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is and a heavily sought after public speaker. With 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN, Virtualization, Cloud and Enterprise Flash. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland he was CTO at one the nation's largest storage integrators where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection.

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