Storage

Increase capacity the easy way with the Drobo B800i

The Drobo B800i is an all-in-one-box designed to be deployed as a Storage Area Network server that can add needed storage capacity to an existing system.

As a small business grows, the need for additional data storage grows with it. One of the most cost-effective ways to add storage capacity is with a Storage Area Network (SAN) server. If your business has reached the point where SAN capacity is vital to continued operations, then perhaps it is time to consider the Drobo B800i.

Note: The reviewed device was provided by Data Robotics.

Specifications

  • Product: Drobo B800i
  • Company: Drobo (Data Robotics)
  • Connectivity: 2 x 10/100/1000 Mbps Ethernet ports, USB 2.0 port for management
  • Capacity: 8 drive bays, 3.5" SATA 1 / SATA II drives, expandable by hot-swapping drives with larger ones
  • Network Protocols: iSCSI, CHAP Authentication
  • Operating System Support: Windows 7, Vista (Service Pack 1), XP (Service Pack 3), Windows 2008 Server, Windows 2003 Server, Mac OS X 10.5.6 or greater (Intel Only), Mac OS X Server 10.5.6 or greater (Intel Only), VMware vSphere 4.x, XenServer 5.6
  • Size and Weight:
    • Width: 12.17 in (309.1 mm)
    • Height: 5.46 in (138.7 mm) - 3 rack units
    • Depth: 14.10 in (358.1 mm)
    • Weight: 16 lbs 3 oz (7.34 kg)
  • Cost: $3,500 with no drives
  • Additional information
  • TechRepublic Photo Gallery

Who is it for?

The Drobo B800i is an all-in-one-box designed to be deployed as a Storage Area Network server that can add needed storage capacity to an existing system.

What problem does it solve?

Because the Drobo B800i is designed to be simple to set up, use, and maintain, small businesses do not have to spend much time or many resources deploying a SAN system.

Special features

  • Compact: The Drobo B800i is about the size of a desktop PC and can sit on a desk or table in an office. It is also relatively quiet once it the boot process has completed.
  • Stand-alone: One important feature for a small business is that the Drobo B800i does not need a server room with specialized environmental controls.
  • Expansion: The Drobo B800i is designed with future expansion in mind. Businesses can add new drives and replace old drives with higher-capacity drives. The system can currently accept 3TB drives.
  • Easy setup: The set-up process is relatively simple if you follow the instructions provided by the manual. However, in order for the Internet Small Computer System Interface (iSCSI) to work properly, you are going to have to know your internal IP addresses.
  • BeyondRAID: The Data Robotics BeyondRAID system is really what separates the Drobo B800i from other SAN boxes. There are many features associated with the BeyondRAID technology, but for small businesses, the ability to use drives of different capacity and to swap out drives and have the server adjust accordingly is a game changer.
  • Drobo Dashboard: The Drobo B800i is managed via the Drobo Dashboard, which makes maintenance about as simple as it can be. To see what the Dashboard looks like, check out the TechRepublic Photo Gallery.

What's wrong?

  • Cost: There is very little wrong with the Drobo B800i when you are talking about features; however, at this moment the device is relatively expensive. At $3,500 with no drives, this is definitely a SAN solution that will appeal only to the businesses that really require its capabilities. I think the price will have to come down before the Drobo B800i will appeal to a wider range of small businesses.
  • Wizard: While the Drobo B800i is easy to set up, I was surprised that there was no software wizard to drive the installation and configuration process. I would like to see a set-up wizard that analyzed my network and suggested IP addresses and other configuration for my SAN server based on what it found.

Competition

Bottom line for business

Drobo has made a name for itself with data storage devices designed for consumer use like storing DVR recordings, multimedia, music, etc. I want to emphasize that this is not one of those consumer Drobo devices.

The Drobo B800i is serious SAN solution for small businesses that need a quick-to-install and easy-to-maintain system. The box is compact and relatively quiet and can sit in a corner in an office and not cause much disruption. For a small business, getting a large amount of storage capacity without having to dedicate a room to a server is a definite plus.

However, all this convenience comes at a pretty hefty price, which makes the Drobo B800i a product that you should consider only if and when the SAN capacity it can provide is needed. The 800Bi is much more than just a bigger hard drive, and it should be deployed only as part of a larger business strategy.

User rating

Do you have a SAN server? Have you considered the Drobo B800i or one of Data Robotics other storage solutions? Share your experiences with Drobo systems in the discussion forum.

About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

13 comments
Andy Raffalski
Andy Raffalski

I always get eeked out whenever I read these articles and they talk about how the device is so nice and compact and "can sit on a desk or table in an office". I just hope you're not putting critical, secure data on this, otherwise this is better locked and secured in a DC or an office with secured access only. "Does not need a server room"?? I would think twice before deploying this.

arbrayton
arbrayton

We are running unraid, on a supermicro mb and sas controllers, in a norco rpc-4220 20 drive bay case. Bulk storage, pop in a new drive and 24 hours later, add more data. The static data is also on blu-ray, in off-site fire safe. $1100 + Drives, cheaper than tape, for storing backups. (Also have DR servers at Data Center, so not only copy.) More work than drobo, more control than drobo.

dean
dean

We have an X-Server / X-RAID system that has been very flexible & reliable; but its Fibre Channel I/O means that expansion of the RAID is about a $10,000 proposition. So expanding by direct-attached storage via FireWire was the path we took when we needed to back up the RAID to disk. Drobo Pro 8-drive arrays were chosen, experimentally (the experiment continues.) The 2 Drobo Pro arrays have been online continuously for over 2 years (first array,) & 18 months (second array.) They live in our climate-controlled server room, a short F-W cable away from the X-Server that hosts them. The server config. does allow the Drobos to be seen as shares, but only for members of our tech staff. The sharing can be handy for quick backups & restores on the Drobo shares, but that's the exception -- they're mainly used for syncing to the X-RAID to back it up. Drobo is not as fast via FireWire 800 as the X-RAID's Fibre Channel; but as either a backup or a file share, it's reasonably responsive. Strongly in their favor: -- We've had some adventures, but never lost a byte of data -- Their customer support team is among the best; I've never talked to a call-center jockey, staring at a scripted support screen; never been shunted off to another corner of a support domain somewhere in 3rd Circle of Hell. The person you reach at Drobo support is well-qualified to help you. They've always been quick to diagnose a problem, very professional, able to communicate well via phone, email, & through their interactive support ticket system. -- The Drobo arrays are quiet enough to sit in most offices & production rooms, & be practically unnoticeable. If it weren't for their front panel status lights, you might not realize they're on. -- Provisioning new drives & replacing bad drives is about as easy as it gets; no tools needed, no drive sleds or carriers. The front panel is held on by magnets & pulls off by hand. -- It will take a very wide range of SATA drive models, including the mega-drives of 2 & 3 GB. -- Beyond RAID is simple to set up & manage, & it does make a long list of array management decisions that would otherwise have to be made by an expert in RAID. -- Expanding available storage on the array is quite simple & is done automatically in the background while the array keeps all data available to users. There's no taking the array off line to expand storage or to replace a bad drive. And it works -- virtualized storage that can be managed by non-IT users, if you just follow pretty simple directions. What I don't like so much: -- If you're used to managing a server, then you read logs & reports, some of which are emailed to IT, to keep tabs on the servers & data. Drobo uses its dedicated Drobo Dashboard app. to let you see the state of the array, Dashboard software version, Drobo firmware version, array capacity, drive status, etc. But it doesn't provide any human-readable log & cannot simply generate a status report with any real detail. It can email its admin. person when significant events happen; but the content of these emails is very basic; it boils down to: "Help, Drobo has a problem," or "Drobo is protecting your data -- something's happening, but you may continue to access your data..." Drobo does of course keep a running log, like any Linux or Unix server would; but it's an encrypted log, readable only by Drobo tech support. They will ask you to download that log to your host computer, & send it to them. And they quickly interpret the log & reply to the owner with their expert advise. Very clean system; but for users accustomed to managing their storage in-house, the Drobo encrypted log means we have no way to really see the status of the Drobo, day-to-day. It can leave me with a queasy feeling, when the array is blinking its colorful lights & signaling that it has a problem. The true nature of that problem can only be judged by the Drobo tech support folks -- who fortunately are very good! I've suggested to them that in future software they could improve their Drobo toolbox by including a way for users to get a readable report. And it wouldn't hurt to give us an option for email notifications that go beyond "your data is at risk..." -- Drobo Dashboard software is much improved in its latest version 2 model. But Dashboard cannot connect to the Drobo array via your network -- it must connect directly to whatever host you choose as a management host. USB works, & on those Drobo models that have a FireWire port (not all models have FW,) Drobo can be FW-connected to its management host where Dashboard runs. If you want to check up on Drobo via a network connection, you'll need to use a remote desktop / VPN solution, to let you connect to the host that runs Dashboard. -- And Dashboard on the Mac OS is strictly for v. 10.5 & higher. OS 10.4 & Dashboard don't get along at all. -- You absolutely need Dashboard to properly manage a connected Drobo array. As an iSCSI user, Drobo can be connected & disconnected with your system's regular desktop system commands; but if the Drobo array is direct-connected to a host, then those system commands are limited to what you can do WITH the array connected & on your device tree. Once Drobo mounts as a direct-attached device, you may not right-click & eject the Drobo volumes without risking a directory corruption on the Drobo volume. The only way to safely manage a direct-attached Drobo is through the Dashboard software commands. Dashboard is not a heavy application to run; but run it you must, or risk having to re-build your directories. Thankfully, Drobo array volumes can be repaired with standard utilities -- on the Mac, Disk Utility, Disk Warrior, etc. -- Recommended drives -- Drobo will not make firm recommendations about which model drive users should use. They have a spec. that's pretty broad, for SATA drives, & they do say what to specifically avoid in a couple of cases. Overall, it's sort of a try-&-see approach. This helps keep Drobo support from turning into a drive testing lab -- no doubt a good thing, considering the resources that would require. But it also means Drobo users with big storage needs will have to select drives with the same caution & care we would use when we provision drives for an enterprise array. As the capacity of drives increases, so does the probability of data loss. Drobo's dual redundant storage mode (apparently kinda sorta comparable to a RAID-6) will help keep your data safer; no guarantee, but the actual reliability of all storage systems gets better if they are provisioned with enterprise-class drives. Drobo is no exception. You do get what you pay for. So far, so good with our Drobo arrays. They're not cheap, but measured against the value of our data on one hand, & against the cost of another Fibre Channel RAID on the other, Drobo Pro arrays strike a pretty fair balance.

I am Gorby
I am Gorby

I'd love a response to this. We have about 10 PCs (Windows and MS Office, with MYOB). I have set up an IOCELL NetDISK NAS (they actually call it NDAS - Network Direct Attached Storage - I think) with 2 Gig. It seems fast. Each user sees it as a local disk. And I've told them, that if they want their data forever, then they better put it on the "common drive" (the Netdisk). We also run a print server with 2 printers attached to it. Netdisk is cheap for me. Am I missing something, or is our set-up too small for this solution.

lkadir
lkadir

True that there are other storage devices like Netgear, QNAP, Synology, Thecus, Cisco, men... list goes on and on. Some of those storage devices offer a great deal of features and ready to use applications. We ourselves used Synology but had to replace it because two key factors: -Every time we added/enabled a new functionality the unit's response time would decrease not only in management but also in transfer rates. -We thought we were protected by Synology's RAID mechanism but we did had some hard drive failures. The problem was the so called RAID groups and how volumes are allocated in such groups, men if I had known that pain we went through to recover our files back we would have not created these RAID groups and would have just let it be a dumb RAID 6. We've tried Netgear and other storage devices, Drobo looks good, maybe in the future... right now we have a Linux box with ZFS and that is rock solid, no issues no slowdowns, nothing. If what this is article is true, it looks like Drobo is like ZFS for dummies but with a price.

kylekatarn76
kylekatarn76

Drobo is an excellent SAN for small businesses who do not require the extra firepower of an EMC or NetApp solution. Depends on your needs.

yakbone
yakbone

We use Synology NASes for our storage. I've heard too many horror stories about Drobo.

tbmay
tbmay

The price is too high. A Poweredge, say a t310, with an array, running CentOS or Debian, will cost MUCH less, and do iscsi, and a lot more.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

We have a large ammount of data so we have a couple of full NetApp racks.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

What SAN server are you currently using? Are you satisfied with it?

VBJackson
VBJackson

The main point is that NAS and SAN are not the same thing. With an NAS device, you are basically setting up a file server, and mapping the storage to the client computer's filesystem as a share (Mapped drive, DFS mount point, etc.). When you set up a SAN, you are actually connecting the server as a low-level drive similar to plugging in a new SATA drive. The main difference is just that the driver looks accross the network to find the device, and the SAN box has a lot more intelligence that a simple drive. Either one can be used effectively on a small network, but they each are better at different tasks. The NAS is best for when you are looking at shared file storage or a common backup repository, because it is attached at the file-system level. The SAN is better when you are planning to consolidate storage being used by servers, because it is attached at the device/block level. The place where the SAN really starts to shine is when you get to the point of multiple virtual server hosts, and it is absolutely critical for high-availability solutions like clustering that require the ability for the fail-over server to access the same device as the primary server.

l_creech
l_creech

Iocell NetDISKs work fairly well for a small shop. I used them for a couple of years as large capacity backup devices that could be rotated offsite and they work very well for that. For more permanent network storage I use a couple of Buffalo TeraStation Pro racks setup in RAID5 with a hot spare.