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Drobo rolls out SMB storage systems for business use

For the first time, Drobo is going solely after businesses with its latest iSCSI and file-sharing SMB storage systems; new systems support thin provisioning, data tiering and solid state drives (SSDs).

Data Robotics (Drobo) is moving squarely into the SMB storage market with its new family of business products launched today.

Drobo's storage systems are 12-bay and eight-bay iSCSI storage area networks (SANs) and an eight-bay file sharing system with remote backup. The 12-bay Drobo 1200i includes thin provisioning, data-aware tiering and an option for solid-state drives (SSDs) as well as SAS and SATA, and are due out around mid-year. The eight-bay systems -- the B800i and B800fs -- are available today.

The new systems will be the first from Drobo marketed solely for businesses. They are larger versions of its current iSCSI storage and file servers for prosumers and photo and video pros with added management and data protection software, a new GUI, and rackmount form factor.

 Drobo began shipping systems in 2007, billed as easy-to-use and affordable storage mostly for consumers and prosumers. Still, Drobo CEO Tom Buiocchi said about 40% of the approximately 150,000 Drobo systems sold are used by businesses. The DroboElite and DroboPro iSCSI storage and Drobo FS file sharing systems were the most likely Drobo systems to be used by businesses until now.

Several customers said Drobo storage already plays a complementary role to SANs from larger vendors, and the expanded systems should enhance its value.

Drobo already providing data backup, disaster recovery

Derek Kruger, IT supervisor for the City of Stafford, Ariz., is using Drobo storage systems alongside Dell EqualLogic iSCSI storage.

Krueger said he has two DroboPros and recently acquired a DroboElite. He has his file server data connected to the Pros, freeing up his Dell EqualLogic PS5000 iSCSI SAN for a Microsoft Hyper-V cluster. "I moved all data storage from the EqualLogic to the Drobo. It's more economical," he said. "I can stand up two fairly small machines as file servers and install DFS [Microsoft Distributed File System] on them and point everybody to that. It doesn't matter if either one goes down, as long as both don't go down at once.

"The goal is to set up the DroboElite in another building and have the other two [Drobos] back up to it for a poor man's version of disaster recovery."

The goal is to set up the DroboElite in another building and have the other two [Drobos] back up to it for a poor man's version of disaster recovery.


Derek Kruger
IT supervisor, City of Stafford, Ariz.

 Lincoln, Neb.-based network infrastructure and support provider J&S Networks has three Drobo systems in-house and deploys six more at customer sites.

J&S CEO Jeffrey Cochran said his two eight-bay DroboElites and a five-bay DroboFS complement two EMC Clariion SANs, which he described as "awesome Fibre Channel and iSCSI support, and extremely expensive." He uses the Clariions for high-volume production data and applications that require fast response times while putting non-critical and backups on Drobo storage.

"We can start with 4 TB and as we grow we don't have to hire specialized storage engineers to re-do our storage," he said. "We can easily add drives, remove drives and replace drives."

Cochran said the most common use of Drobos for his customers is for small SQL or Exchange data stores. He plans to use three drives in a four-bay system, and take one drive offsite every month for backup. "We rotate the drives, and if we have a failure, we get the drive that was offsite," he said.

IDC analyst Liz Conner said Drobo has generated "a lot of grassroots chatter" and a good reputation in the prosumer space, but has yet to make a name for itself as a business system vendor. "A lot of people have seen the other players, Buffalo Technology, NetGear, Iomega, or the big boys," she said. "Drobo is almost unknown in that market. The other challenge is whether Drobo can deliver the type of ease-of-use features it promises. A lot of people have claimed they can do it, and customers are still confused. So Drobo's challenge is to make it easy to use and still be a powerful system."

SSDs intriguing but still pricey for SMBs

SSD support is unusual for SMB storage. Drobo's 12-bay systems will support 3.5-inch single-level cell (SLC) or multi-level cell (MLC) SSDs. The 12-bay systems will be available at less than $10,000 for 12 TB of capacity, but that price does not include SSDs.

"If they can make the tiering easy, SSDs will be interesting," Conner said. "If they can keep it under $15,000 with SSDs, that would be a feather in their cap. Low-end Dell and Hewlett-Packard systems with SSDs are usually at least $25,000."

Krueger and Cochran said they find Drobo's SSD support intriguing but they believe the price of SSDs remain too high for now.

Drobo's push into the SMB storage space comes on the heels of EMC's launch of its VNXe SMB unified storage systems. EMC hails the VNXe as easy-to-use storage for less than $10,000. Buiocchi said he considers VNXe more high end than Drobo's new systems, and Conner agreed that EMC's Iomega platform is probably more of a competitor to Drobo than VNXe.

"EMC may be intimidating for SMBs," she added.


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