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.

Want to keep up with Scott Lowe's posts on TechRepublic?

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...

11 comments
howarddavidp
howarddavidp

I know it's an old thread, but I wanted to give my 1st impressions b/c I set one up recently. I am not sure this would be a truly "enterprise" device. The IOPS just don't seem to be there from my basic tests. It does what it needs to good enough, which is backup my NAS. As for an online data source, I am not sure how well it would do. Granted, I have a mixed bag of 1 and 2 TB drives in it, so I can admit I have 5405 rpm drives in the foray. The things I can say I don't like is how it handles drive rebuild/adds/or changes. It has yet to lose data, and the replacement is painless and easy (you don't do anything but watch). Replacing the drives can take between 5 mins and 3 hours, depending on which drive is replaced. What I don't like is the "what is going on now" status. Here is my scenario: 1) Replace a drive, for whatever reason. 2) DroboElite sees and begins to integrate the new drive, flawless so far. 3) After the indicator says it is "Protecting my data", when it finishes the unit reboots a few times, and I have to reboot the host to get the Drobo back into operation. This is weird to me, why does the Drobo wait for a reboot on the host to start back up? I would think that once it is finished with the drive change, it would come back online without any input from the host? My Drobo waits for me to reboot the PC, then it comes back to life and the new space is available, as well as the old LUN's. But, while it is "doing it magic" everything goes offline. My setup is not the typical Drobo setup. I have 2.0.4 Firmware (painless for Drobo to auto update itself), and the latest 2.x? Software. My test host is an Alienware Laptop using the GBe onboard. It support jumbo 9k frames, and that is enabled. I also made some other tweaks, like disabling power stuff and the ToE enabled to improve the performance. I have 6 V-raptors that I will put in when I want to see the max speed of this device, and I also have a 1/2 dozen SSD from OCZ that I can use as well. The performance is good for what I need, my basic tests have been copying large 100+ GB files to and fro, and I can get up to 55 MB/s copy speeds, the average is 45MB/s. (I use a program called Teracopy to get those numbers, I am copying Acronis TIB files, which are already compressed). I am going to run some tests with ATTO and other performance suites soon, but my overall feel is that I am slightly better than FW800 (I have a MAC and I know how fast that copies the same large files). I also run a Thecus N5200pro which also makes use of iSCSI, and I can compare the Drobo iSCSI performace to that device as well, which has been super thus far. I know, both End-of-life products for data protection, but what do you expect from a home user? What I can say is that Drobo was idiot-proof to setup. I had it up and running in minutes, and there are not that many settings to adjust, so it is hard to get it wrong. The enterprise will snuff at this, no SNMP, only email alerts, etc. I did test the Manager software in a VM machine, that works fine. Another pet peeve is that the USB de-activates the iSCSI ports? Why, oh why. does Drobo do this? If they were to enable this in a new firmware, you could use the Manager on a different host, or even use a USB-to-Ethernet gadget to have another machine in a NOC monitor the device w/o having to see the lights or login to a hosts that is directly attached? Out-of-band management would have been splendid, but oh well. I also have an Adapter 7200C card lying around somewhere, so I will see if I can configure a server to boot from the Drobo (or whatever the model is for the Adapter iSCSI NIC that you can boot with). I will update, as this is my latest project to see what this device can do. D

geoff
geoff

I purchased a DroboElite to replace a single-drive OpenFiler iSCSI datastore for my VMware VSphere test environment. I wanted something with a bit better performance when hitting the drive hard (more spindles). What I found is that performance was much worse on the DroboElite than OpenFiler or Windows Storage Server. I can boot a Windows guest VM in about 30 seconds on either datastore, but was 2:40 with the DroboElite. I need to do additional testing with iometer, but so far I have been very disappointed with performance. I am waiting to hear back from technical support to see if there is anything I can do to help. On their website they point to VMware guest partition alignment documents on VMware's website, but those documents do not recommend alignment on boot volumes (unless I am misunderstanding something). Buyer beware. Do your research, investigate performance issues. Read the forums. Understand what you are getting before dropping $5000 on the device. I read that performance when attached to a Windows machine is great. VMware might not yet be ready for production. (I'm running the latest 1.03 firmware and latest dashboard.)

flood_specialist
flood_specialist

For one, looking at the gallery it show 8tb of drives and only 5tb free. Does this bay use 3tb? Additionally, it's made in China> I'm sure we can find something here.

corndog42
corndog42

I am always amazed by the constant positive press the Drobo gets. It is obvious that reviewers must spend almost zero time actually using the unit before writing glowing reviews! When is the last time a SAN device got a positive review when it contains ZERO visibility to drive temperature, ZERO visibility to fan speed, ZERO visibility to pending failures because of drive smart errors, ZERO network alerts when a drive fails an needs to be replaced? Check it out. When you hook up your DroboElite to your ESX Server, you can no longer run the admin dashboard. This means you need to drive to your data center and visually check to make sure all the lights are green, because there is absolutely no alerting in case of a problem. And yet you give it a positive review! I wish I'd never bought mine!

daring
daring

I see dual iSCSI ports, which makes me think about clustering. Having block-level access is great. Could this be used in a Windows failover cluster as a storage device?

Jim Sherhart
Jim Sherhart

Hello - We sent Scott a mix of 1TB and 2TB drives to show off the ability to mix and match drives with BeyondRAID. Keeping drives closely matched in size will always yield the highest ratio of raw-to-usable capacity. The rule of thumb is remove the size of the largest drive for single drive protection. Removing a 2TB drive would yield 6TB. The delta between 6TB and the 5.4TB reported by the DroboElite can be attributed to the actual-vs-stated drive capacities as a 1TB drive is actually ~950GB of usable capacity.

Jim Sherhart
Jim Sherhart

Corndog - While it is true that the DroboElite does not support SNMP, there are many ways to manage and monitor the unit. All Drobo units support email alerts and Drobo Dashboard now runs as a service, so you do not need to log in to a specific user account to receive them. Keep in mind this product was designed for SMBs that usually do not have a dedicated IT personnel and are very unlikely to be using SNMP. The DroboElite automatically takes care of the low-level monitoring and management and simply tells the user (via the light, GUI pop-ups, and email alerts) when there is a problem that needs to be addressed. Your comments about not being able to run Drobo Dashboard once the DroboElite is attached to a VMware ESX server are simply not true. Dashboard can run inside a virtual machine or on any Windows server that is also on the iSCSI VLAN which allows for a simple way to enable the email alerts in a VMware environment.

brian
brian

Hard to imagine. They must figure people will put it out on a desk in their office, for people to walk by and rest their coffee on.

lpsebay
lpsebay

This is not the storage platform for Enterprise applications. It really is aimed at the SMB that supports a goodly number of clients and lacks a dedicated IT department or have support personnel with limited technical experience. For them the key issue is a "Set it and Forget it" scenario! The Drobo unit seems extremely reliable and I never get early AM calls to restore it. I LOVE IT! Most of these type of customers have NO idea what a failover cluster is. BUT - it is intriguing!

corndog42
corndog42

That's correct. No SNMP, No eMail, nothing.

Jim Sherhart
Jim Sherhart

lpsebay is correct that the DroboElite is squarely aimed at the SMB, so simplicity and ease of management were key design principles. While DroboElite fully supports VMware's clustering features, it does not currently support MS clustering which is planned for a future release.

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