Cloud

Review: Data Robotics DroboElite

The DroboElite makes it possible for SMBs to develop services that require share block level storage without breaking the bank.

Stranded storage (i.e., storage that is tied to single servers) is a quickly dying breed. Even SMBs have a significant need to leverage the benefits wrought by the implementation of shared block-level storage systems. Whether the need is simply for raw shared space or the need is to deploy multiple VMware vSphere hosts with VMotion, shared storage has become must-have infrastructure for many organizations.

The DroboElite is Data Robotics' latest foray into the SMB storage market. While the company previously focused most of its efforts on direct attached storage, the DroboElite's iSCSI expands the company's focus to include network-based shared storage. The DroboElite is squarely focused on the needs of SMBs that are interested in:

  • Consolidating storage from other servers;
  • Implementing VMware ESX-based virtualization; and
  • Expanding the storage pool available to Exchange servers.

This is the first installment in my series about DroboElite. In future installments, I'll cover the following topics:

  • Deploying the DroboElite and assessing raw performance.
  • Using the DroboElite with VMware vSphere 4 and Exchange Server 2010.
  • Providing a detailed look at BeyondRAID and its benefits.
Note: I received a demo unit from Data Robotics for this review.

Specifications

  • 8 bay 3.5' SATA-based dual-port iSCSI storage device
    • Current raw capacity limits of 16 TB in a single unit using 2 TB SATA disks; can expand as larger drives are developed.
    • No need to match disk sizes.
  • VMware-ready certification
  • Supports these file systems: NTFS, VMFS, HFS+
Requirements
  • OS support: Windows XP SP3, Windows Vista SP1, Windows 7, Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2008, Mac OS X 10.5.6+, Linux (EXT3) - beta support only, VMware vSphere 4
  • Network
    • Gigabit Ethernet, (preferably two ports)
    • Do not use 100Mbps Ethernet ports. While the ports may work, performance will be abysmal.

Who is the target audience?

The DroboElite is aimed squarely at the SMB with significant space needs and that can live with 8 disk spindles worth of performance/IOPs in a single device. At a list price of $5,899 for a unit with eight 2 TB disks (16TB of capacity), the DroboElite is a budget friendly solution. If you need more space, you can simply buy more units.

What problem does it solve?

The DroboElite makes it possible to develop services that require share block level storage without breaking the bank. The device also makes it possible for SMBs to save money by reducing the need to buy servers with large amounts of disk space; instead, storage can be consolidated on the DroboElite.

With its VMware certification for vSphere, the DroboElite is also ready to help SMBs move into the world of virtualization with all of the benefits that come with it, including the use of VMotion.

Features

  • Easy to add and replace disks. Simply slide them into an available slot.
  • Single disk redundancy or optional dual disk redundancy (for added protection) to protect against one or two disk failures.
  • Data Robotics' BeyondRAID technology, which can survive one or two disk faults. BeyondRAID allows you to swap disks at any time and mix and match disks of any size; there's no need to match disk sizes as you do for traditional RAID.
  • Smart volumes
    • Able to create up to 255 volumes, more than enough for most SMBs.
    • As volumes are expanded and contracted based on actual usage, space is returned to common usage in order to maintain as high a level of usage as possible.
    • Thin provisioned
    • Each volume can contain a different file system; this makes the DroboElite a good solution even for heterogeneous environments.
  • At-a-glance status monitoring
    • LEDs indicating current storage status Green. All is well and you're safe from data loss. Yellow. The DroboElite has exceeded 85% capacity. It's time to add a new disk or upgrade an existing disk to a larger size. Red. A drive needs immediate attention; the drive has failed, and you are at risk for data loss. Blinking Yellow/Green. Data is being moved.
    • A set of 10 blue LEDs at the right side of the unit that indicates current storage capacity. Two blue lights = 20% utilization; five blue lights = 50% utilization, and so forth.
  • Dual iSCSI ports for network-based redundancy and increased overall storage performance.
  • Very easy to setup; it's almost plug-and-play. I had mine up and running in less than 10 minutes.
  • TechRepublic's photo gallery of the DroboElite

What's wrong?

  • Unit is not fully redundant.
    • Dual iSCSI ports protect against network faults, but the unit only has a single controller.
    • Unit contains a single power supply.
  • It's not immediately obvious that you don't simply unplug the unit to turn it off and could, in fact, be dangerous. Yes, reading the instructions negates this worry, but perhaps a more strategically placed power switch would help.
  • Magnets hold the DroboPro's faceplate in place. I've become terrified of magnets near my stuff (yes, I know it's a weird phobia), so I was surprised that this was the method the company used to secure the faceplate. That said, there is a related question in the product documentation's FAQ section with an answer indicating that the magnets are not powerful enough to create any problems.

Competitive products

Bottom line for business

The DroboElite is a winner for SMBs. Although the unit suffers from a lack of redundancy, responsible IT practices (read: backups) will address this issue. Also, bear in mind that the DroboElite provides 16 TB of iSCSI-accessed storage with powerful BeyondRAID technology for less than $6,000. In fact, the DroboElite's per-terabyte cost is a scant $368.69. This kind of price tag makes it feasible to consider multiple units for organizations that value full redundancy.

User rating

If you have used the DroboElite, what do you think? Rate your experience and compare the results to what other TechRepublic members think.

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About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

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