Drobo, the company formerly known as Data Robotics, is one that has a long history with Tech Field Day. They were presenters at TFD 1 and have been associated with several since then. I hadn’t heard much about them prior to my TFD 5 trip, so I was quite eager to hear about some of their offerings.
After lunch at Drobo, we launched right into discussions of their products. Leading the charge was Mario Blandini, and to describe him as animated is a disservice. Mario is excited and ready to talk. He showed us a picture of him talking about Drobo in character as pitchman Billy Mays, blue shirt and all. That character fits him totally. Drobo also won my first annual “Fewest Slides with a Point” award, as they had a very quick deck of 4-5 slides that included a short video for intro purposes. After that, we killed the video feed for a whiteboard session that delved into some of the “secret sauce” that Drobo uses in their Beyond RAID technology. While I can’t talk about it, and in some cases didn’t quite get the really technical details, it did make me rethink how RAID works in legacy applications. Drobo has put a lot of thought into their methods of drive utilization, and their whole concept of “beyond RAID” makes some sense to me. I really think I’d need some more one-on-one time to totally get it down, as storage is not my first language. As a side note, the whiteboard at Drobo was a pane of glass anchored to a beige wall. This scored cool points for form, but the markers were a little hard to read against the beige and sometimes didn’t make nice, clear marks. Should you be of the bent to go for the glass whiteboard for your home or office, be sure the background is bright to help those of us with terrible eyesight.
Once the cameras came back up, Drobo unveiled a new 12-bay storage appliance designed for business, the B1200i. This coincided with a new focus on this market driven by the tagline “Drobo Means Business”. It showed in the product development as well. The home-use products I saw previously appeared to be geared toward the consumer market, with unified housing and smaller form factors. The new Drobo 12-bay was designed to work with SMB/small enterprise setups, with rack mounting capability and removable FRU parts that don’t require the whole unit to be replaced when something breaks. It even has iSCSI support to allow it to be attached to Windows servers and VMware boxes easily. We were able to demo the unit, showing the capabilities of removing drives from the array and reinserting them out-of-order while the unit chugged right along playing a Quicktime movie trailer. Normally, reinserting a RAID drive in the wrong spot could be considered a Resume Generating Event (RGE), but Drobo has no problems with it at all. Once the software rebuilt the array, all the pretty lights on the front went back to green and you’d never know anything happened. Coupled with the fact that all the drives in the unit were of mismatched sizes, I was even more impressed.
We were also treated to a demo of the redesigned Drobo dashboard software. This slick looking piece of software allows one to administer multiple Drobo units as well as view status such capacity, health, and firmware levels. Everything pops up in a nice dashboard view, allowing you to drill down to the individual unit quickly. You can also launch a discovery process to go out and find all the units connected to your local subnet. This would be helpful in a case where you aren’t familiar with the network topology, or where someone might have plugged in a unit and forgotten how to contact it. From a security standpoint, I was a little worried that it was so easy to discover the units. Sure, you have to have a username and password to access them, but even knowing they are out there can give you a few avenues of attack. If there were a way to turn or discovery or simply get more information about which ports are being used by discovery so they can be disabled by us paranoid security types, it would help out.
I was highly impressed with the ease of use of the unit, from both setup and maintenance aspects. This appears to be a unit that I can have at my home, or perhaps even in a small branch office that can just be provisioned without the traditional RAID headaches. In fact, that type of low-tech maintenance is perfect for the person that needs to send a unit to a branch office in New Mexico that may not have a dedicated tech resource. Managing the unit with the dashboard software is simple, and should a problem develop with a drive, you can just ship a new one there and tell them to replace the funny colored light instead of the need to walk them through the ritual of rebuilding RAID arrays. I’m considering pulling the trigger on ordering one of these puppies to store some of my important files at home, like the mountain of pictures my wife seems to have accumulated over the last few years. If you’re considering ordering one too, be sure to use the “DRIHOLLING” coupon code on their website for, well, the best Drobo deal ever (it’s case sensitive BTW).
If you are interested in getting a Drobo unit all for yourself, the good folks at Drobo have given me a discount code that’s good for the following discounts:
$50 off on Drobo 4-bay
$100 off on Drobo 4-bay with drives
$100 off on Drobo S & Drobo FS
$150 off on Drobo S and Drobo FS with drives
$150 off on DroboPro & DroboPro FS
$200 off DroboPro & DroboPro FS with drives
Just use the code DRIHOLLING (case matters). And enjoy your new Drobo!
Tech Field Day Disclaimer
Drobo was a sponsor of Tech Field Day 5, and as such was partly responsible for my airfare and hotel accommodations. In addition, they provided lunch and the use of their facility for our sessions. We were also provided refreshment in the form of cupcakes with enough frosting to spackle my bathroom, which were quite delicious. Drobo did not ask for, nor did they receive any consideration for this article. The opinions expressed here are my own and were not influenced in any way by Drobo.