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High-capacity Drobo NAS marks return to vendor's roots

New Drobo NAS device -- the B810n -- is unveiled, presenting a single 64 TB namespace that can be divided into multiple SMB shares with thin provisioning.

Drobo this week unleashed a high-capacity hybrid NAS appliance with automated flash tiering, marking the vendor's first product rollout since breaking off from Connected Data in May.

The Drobo B810n is an eight-slot device that supports 8 TB SATA drives for 64 TB of raw storage. The Drobo NAS device supports simultaneous use of HDDs and SSDs and runs Drobo's upgraded BeyondRAID management firmware.

The vendor aims the B810n at small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) with large work teams. Projected use cases include backup, team file sharing, and video and media libraries.

Drobo said its latest NAS appliance provides SMBs with enhanced data resiliency and recovery features. The B810n presents a single 64 TB namespace that can be divided into multiple SMB shares with thin provisioning.

Drobo returning to its roots as SMB NAS provider

The new Drobo NAS product line falls between Drobo's 5N NAS hardware, its B800i block-based iSCSI SAN for SMBs and its enterprise B1200i SAN hardware. Drobo storage does not provide enterprise-grade features such as inline data reduction.

The Drobo NAS device supports simultaneous use of HDDs and SSDs and runs Drobo's upgraded BeyondRAID management firmware.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Drobo started out selling as a consumer and "prosumer" vendor. The company was acquired by Connected Data in 2013 following an abortive push into enterprise storage. Less than two years later, Connected Data sold Drobo to a team of investors led by CEO Mihir Shah, formerly an executive with switch maker Brocade Communications Systems Inc.

Shah said the B810n launch signals Drobo's intention to refocus on its core markets.

"We are not going to go completely into the enterprise. There are a lot of players [in enterprise storage] that have much bigger balance sheets than we do," Shah said. "We'll continue to focus on sub-200-employee environments that need cheap and deep backup that's easy to use. We are trying to take some [enterprise] features and make them affordable for people who aren't going to spend five figures on a storage box."

George Crump, president of analyst firm Storage Switzerland, said Drobo is smart to focus the B810n on its original core market of backup and digital media.

"For a small office that is looking for an inexpensive NAS, this product makes a lot of sense," Crump said. "The SSD [capability] is interesting, but it's more a 'nice to have,' since most small businesses are probably going to be either WiFi-attached or 1GB-attached. Where the B810n technology gets very interesting is as a backup target, especially if you're doing instant recovery. Then, in theory, you could back up everything relatively quickly and do the recovery right on the SSD. Those files would get promoted to the hot tier."

Caching, faster RAID rebuilds at core of Drobo NAS device

BeyondRAID software in the B810n automatically creates a hot cache when a single SSD is inserted in the appliance. If a second SSD is used, BeyondRAID configures it on the fly as a redundant data-aware transaction tier.

The firmware upgrade includes a read-ahead feature designed to boost cache performance. The Drobo NAS appliance also takes periodic metadata snapshots and uses them to reheat the cache for system recovery. The cache is backed by an internal battery to protect data in flight. Drobo scrubs data in the background to remove or repair corrupted file storage.

An additional feature in the B810n is adaptive link bonding for configuring dual Gigabit Ethernet ports as a single pipe for active-active failover.

Drobo said the B810n enables RAID rebuilds to occur eight times as fast as its predecessor, the B800fs, which is being discontinued. List price for the B810n is $1,599. Customers who order online from Drobo through December will receive two free 240 GB SSDs.

Along with new NAS hardware, Drobo said it plans to roll out software for off-site disaster recovery by the end of the year. That product, Drobo DR, is expected to provide block-level replication between B810n NAS boxes.

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