Drobo embraces Thunderbolt, releases Drobo Mini

Both the Mini, Drobo 5D support data tiering with SSDs

Drobo today announced a new form factor for its backup storage array, for the first time offering a device that's small enough to carry around. It also announced the Drobo 5D array, which offers up to 20TB of storage capacity and delivers six times the performance of its predecessor.

Along with the two new data backup devices, the San Jose-based storage vendor announced that its products now support the Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 external device interconnect specifications.

Drobo's first portable array, the Drobo Mini, holds up to four 2.5-in drives and weighs only about 2.5 lbs. It can store up to 3TB of data. The Mini will retail for about $599 without drives and will support both Thunderbolt and USB 3.0.

Drobo Mini
The back of the Drobo Mini.

Drobo CEO Tom Buiocchi described the Drobo Mini as being about the size of a "large club sandwich" -- 7-in. by 7-in. by 2.5-in. high -- and he said it's aimed at the professional consumer, or prosumer, market, which would include self-employed people such as photographers.

Drobo recently announced support for solid-state drives (SSD) in its B1200i array, a 12-bay array designed for enterprises. Along with support for SSDs, the company said it added automatic tiering software that, like similar offerings from Drobo's larger competitors, detects applications with the highest I/O use and places their data on the SSDs while assigning data with lower performance requirements to hard drives.

"The SSDs are recognized as a higher order of service and used as a higher transactional tier. A write will go directly to SSDs and not hit the hard disk drives," Buiocchi said. "If you have hot data, which is profiled over time and seems to be frequently read, that will be promoted to SSDs. What makes it different from others is there's no management involved; it does it automatically."

Both the Drobo 5D and Drobo Mini will also include support for SSD I/O acceleration. Both storage arrays can accept either SATA- or SAS-based drives and, with an adapter, 2.5-in. or 3.5-in. drives.

Because it's considered portable, the Drobo Mini comes in a "ruggedized" enclosure that allows users to transport it with drives inside -- a first for the company's products. The Drobo Mini also features a custom miniature power supply and an optional carrying case.

Jeff Cable, an official photographer for Team USA at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, said having a portable backup device that can handle terabytes of data makes his job easier.

Cable rents a condo or stays in a hotel room when he's shooting at the Olympics. The temporary home becomes a processing center for the 90GB of images he shoots daily. Backing up those images up can take up to two hours on his current Drobo, and he's usually under tight deadlines to get his images to clients. He's hoping the new portable Drobo with SSDs will reduce the amount of time he spends waiting for backups to finish.

"I back up because if I look at the Olympics and what I do, I'm capturing history," he said. "I have every digital image I've ever shot on my current Drobo. Sometimes I shoot 9,000 images a day."

Cable uses three MacBook Pros that are not Thunderbolt-equipped, but he is looking to the future when he'll be able to use the interconnect that has up to 10 times the bandwidth of today's USB 2.0 protocol.

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