Drobo Upgrades iSCSI SAN with SSDs & Amazon Cloud Storage

By Pedro Hernandez | Posted March 12, 2012

Drobo, a provider of storage systems known to cater to the SOHO set and to creative professionals, charts new territory by embracing two of the hottest technologies in data storage today: solid-state drives (SSDs) and cloud storage.

You can purchase the San Jose, Calif.-based storage firm's B1200i iSCSI SAN with OCZ SSDs and features support for Amazon's AWS Storage Gateway. The B1200i is a 12 bay, 3U rackmount array with four 1 GbE ports, three for iSCSI connectivity and one reserved for systems management.

Quickly becoming a must-have option in enterprise-grade storage systems, SSDs provide faster IOPS, which translates into snappier, near-instantaneous application performance. Drobo brings this speed boost to SMBs by offering the B1200i bundled with OCZ enterprise grade Talos SSDs.

The 200GB, 3.5-inch drives feature a 6Gb/s SAS interface and MLC-based flash chips. A standard Drobo-OCZ bundle ships with nine 2TB hard drives and three 200 GB SSDs and sells for $18,000.

Not bad, as SAN hardware goes. But for most SMBs, the idea of incorporating SSDs into their storage mix is a non-starter. Though the performance gains and lower energy costs are compelling, their cost is often prohibitive. At least when compared to standard hard drives.

Drobo's answer: pay as you grow.

Instead of paying top dollar for pre-configured, SSD-laden arrays, SMBs can upgrade their Drobo SANs when circumstances permit. "Buy one of our arrays today, and when your budget allows, add SSDs," says Jim Sherhart, senior director of product marketing for Drobo.

How is that possible? With BeyondRAID, the company's secret sauce.

Venturing BeyondRAID

The company's claim to SMB-friendly fame is BeyondRAID, the Linux-based built-in software that governs the B1200i. In fact, BeyondRAID is "foundational to all Drobo products," says Sherhart.

Developed for businesses where IT personnel are in short supply or practically non-existent, BeyondRAID automatically configures storage assets, whether SSD or traditional hard drives, to provide data protection and ease storage management. "BeyondRAID eliminates the need to be a RAID expert," says Sherhart.

While a cost- and time-saving benefit for non-techies, Sherhart says that BeyondRAID also provides up-market capabilities that let small businesses get the most out of their storage investments. These features include thin provisioning and the capability to mix and match drives.

However, to make the most out of SSD's performance-enhancing technology, the B1200i will lean on BeyondRAID's automated data-aware tiering capabilities. True to the company's zero configuration philosophy, BeyondRAID self-tunes, automatically assigning application data to the storage "tier" -- SSD or hard drive -- that provides a better match for optimal performance. For example, transaction-heavy databases can have their data stored on SSDs instead of hard drives so that data is retrieved faster and applications don't hang as often.

Automated data-aware tiering with SSD support will be available via a software update in late April.

Cloudy On-Ramp

The B1200i -- and its stablemate, the B800i-- is now certified for AWS Storage Gateway support, paving an "on-ramp to the cloud" for SMBs, according to the company.

Cloud computing services are nothing new for Drobo, says Sherhart. Previously, the company has included support for Carbonite on its SOHO hardware as well as Pogoplug's platform for remote data access.

AWS Storage Gateway certification and integration provides "a really nice and elegant way to perform a quick snapshot," says Sherhart. Powered by a downloadable "software virtual appliance," the new Amazon cloud-Drobo hardware combo provides SMBs with the peace of mind of an automated, off-site disaster recovery platform.

And Drobo promise seamless integration, thanks to a little known fact. According to Sherhart, Amazon tested its AWS Storage Gateway tech on Drobo devices.

AWS Storage Gateway integration is available now.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the Internet.com network of IT-related websites and as the Green IT curator for GigaOM Pro. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE

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