Data Robotics ships Drobo iSCSI SAN

DroboElite allows users to mix and match drives in a common capacity pool

Data Robotics today released its first iSCSI SAN storage array that, like its other low-end arrays, manages itself and allows any capacity or brand of disk drive to be mixed, matched and exchanged without any downtime.

Data Robotics' DroboElite offers automated capacity expansion and one-click single- or dual-drive (RAID 5 or 6) redundancy for Windows, Mac and Linux machines. The new system extends the number of Smart Volumes - Data Robotics' thin provisioning that pools capacity from all eight drives - so users can now create as many as 255 virtual storage volumes, up from 16 volumes in the current Drobo model.

The latest addition to the Drobo family of arrays is aimed at the small to mid-size business market and resellers selling into the virtual server space, according to Jim Sherhart, senior director of marketing for Data Robotics. "Virtual servers tend to use a lot of small LUNs (logical unit numbers)," said Jim Sherhart, senior director of marketing for Data Robotics.

The DroboElite is also able to drop from higher to lower levels of RAID with no manual intervention. For example, if a user were to initially set up DroboElite for dual drive failure, he could switch to single-drive failure with one mouse click. Users can also change out drives, adding higher-capacity models, in 10 seconds - with no formatting required, according to Sherhart.

DroboElite can support VMware environments and advanced functionality including VMotion, Storage VMotion, snapshots, and high availability.

Tarun Chachra, chief technology officer at marketing company KSL Media, has owned two Drobo USB arrays for about a year and a half. He purchased four DroboPro arrays in June for use in two offices for Microsoft Exchange replication and backups for about 16 servers. He's also beta testing the DroboElite, which he plans to purchase for backing up his VMware servers because of its higher throughput with dual Gigabit Ethernet ports and greater number of creatable volumes.

Chachra said he was impressed that he could simply go out and buy a 1TB, 7,200 RPM SATA drive for $69 and stick it in the DroboElite, saving him money on total cost of ownership on pricier SAS drives.

Chachra has been comparing his existing DroboPros, which can be configured with up to eight 2TB drives, to what he'd previously been using for backups: a Hewlett-Packard AiO400R array with four 500GB drives. Chachra said the DroboPro cost about $3,500 compared with the AiO400, which cost $5,219. The HP array was set up for RAID 5 right out of the box and couldn't be changed; the DroboPro offers both RAID 5 and 6 interchangeably.

The HP array runs the same iSCSI stack as the DroboPro, but it uses Windows 2003 Storage Server as a backup and replication application. The HP has forced Chachra to reboot his backup server every three days or so because it would hang up and couldn't handle bandwidth, he said.

"We don't have huge IT teams looking at servers, so it's better for us to have something that can tolerate a higher driver failure rates," he said. "We also don't stock a lot of hard drives. The main thing, though, is redundancy and having Exchange available all the time."

"I don't know that an enterprise is going to run out and deploy this for 2,000 or 3,000 [users], but for small or mid-size shops, this is cost effective and it works as well as it should," Chachra added. The DroboElite also offers a non-automated thin provisioning feature called Smart Volumes that allows users to create new volumes in seconds and manage them over time by pulling storage from a common pool rather than a specific physical drive allocation. Smart Volumes are also file system aware, which allows deleted data blocks to be immediately returned to the pool for future use.

Geoff Barrall, CEO and founder of Data Robotics, said the DroboElite can deliver cost savings of up to 90% compared to other iSCSI SANs "by combining cost-effective hardware with robust iSCSI features."

The DroboElite is currently available starting at a price of $3,499, with multiple configurations selling for up to $5,899 for a 16TB configuration (using eight 2TB drives).

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