Drobo B800i iSCSI SAN Storage Review - Page 2

By Paul Mah | Posted December 01, 2011

Ease of Expansion

The key selling point of the Drobo is undoubtedly its BeyondRAID technology, which was designed to overcome the traditional weaknesses of RAID.  To put it simply, BeyondRAID ensures that data is automatically spread across the pertinent disk drives without the need to configure complicated parameters such as RAID levels or hot spares.  And unlike RAID, BeyondRAID continues to work well even if every disk drive in the array is a different capacity.

In addition, BeyondRAID technology also makes it a trivial matter to figure out the amount of storage capacity that is available for use.  To obtain the total available storage space, subtract the size of the largest installed HDD from the total capacity of all installed HDD.  If dual-disk redundancy is enabled, subtract the size of the two largest installed HDD instead.  Of course, administrators who prefer working with more concrete figures may use Drobo's online calculator.

In practice, this means that we were able to perform an "upgrade" of an existing disk by yanking it out and slotting in a new, larger HDD.  Upon successful rebuild of data on the new HDD (green light), the process can be repeated with the next disk drives to be upgraded.  Upgrading of storage capacity is even faster in the event where spare drive bays are available -- just slot in some new HDDs, and they become available for use practically instantly.  Compared to the error-prone file backup and restore procedures required for deleting an existing RAID volume and creating a new one, BeyondRAID literally makes storage a no-brainer.

Drobo's Minor Weaknesses

The Drobo B800i is a well-polished product that makes storage extraordinarily easy.  As you can imagine, the weakness highlighted here are relatively minor gripes and hardly intractable. When creating a new volume for instance, you will be prompted on whether to create a standard volume or one with multi-host support.  Once created however, there appears to be no way to check whether a particular storage volume was configured with multi-host support or not.

As mentioned earlier, the Gigabit Ethernet port does not support link-aggregation, which reduces the available options for organizations that want to achieve maximum data transfer speeds. It will still be possible to manually load-balance different physical server between the two Ethernet ports, though this can be somewhat of a hassle.

Conclusion

There are many things that we like about the Drobo B800i.  Beyond obvious capabilities such as its BeyondRAID technology, its whisper-quiet operation also means that the storage device can be deployed on a desktop in a fairly quiet office.  Ultimately, we found the Drobo B800i's performance to be adequate despite its lack of link-aggregation. 

The Drobo B800i is available at a retail price of $3,999 without any drives bundled, which is arguably a price point that may deter some SMBs.  In our opinion, the Drobo B800i is ideally suited for businesses where access to robust storage is crucial, but that may not have a dedicated IT staffer.  For these businesses, the ease of management and capability for seamless expansion of the Drobo B800i makes it a truly compelling buy.

Paul Mah covers technology for SMBs for Small Business Computing and IT Business Edge. He also shares his passion for and knowledge of everything from networking to operating systems as an instructor at Republic Polytechnic in Singapore, and is a contributor to a number of tech sites, including Ars Technica and TechRepublic.

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