Drobo's Storage Line Fits Small and Home-Based Businesses

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Drobo introduced a line of storage systems Tuesday that cater to the business needs of SoHos and medium-size business, after focusing on consumer storage devices since 2007. The company recently learned from a survey that 10,000 of its 150,000 customers were small to medium-size businesses, so it decided to design products that better fit their wants and needs.

Drobo's storage devices for businesses, in a nutshell, offer storage area network (SAN) or network-attached storage (NAS) storage for PCs, Macs, or servers. Machines connected to the storage units are backed up automatically on a schedule that the user designates.

Drobo's B1200i a 12-bay iSCSI SAN device
Drobo's B1200i a 12-bay iSCSI SAN device
When one of the disks in the RAID arrays (a combination of either a mirroring or striping configuration) goes bad, a red warning light goes off on the Drobo unit. You can then swap a new drive for the bad one as the storage device, which is small enough to sit on a desktop, continues to run with Drobo's BeyondRAID technology.

Company representatives say the storage devices can be setup in just a few minutes with what they say is a "five-click" installation process. If you have 10 office PCs that you want to connect to one of the storage devices, you run the setup wizard from the install DVD from a PC connected to the Drobo unit. The idea, company reps say, is that a SoHo user or even someone who has no interest in networks can manage the process. If something goes wrong, Drobo offers a hotline for 24/7 customer support.

You can run the Drobo Dashboard from a workstation that attaches to a Drobo unit. The software console displays capacity and disk status information and can be used as a management tool for tasks such as copying data from the Drobo unit.

The professional-grade devices Drobo is launching come in different flavors. The 8-bay model B800fs is a NAS device that offers file sharing for up to 100 users. Model B800i is an eight-bay iSCSI SAN unit that can accommodate up to eight servers. While models B800fs and B800i are available now, the B1200i, which is a 12-bay iSCSI SAN device, will be available in the second quarter.

An interesting feature that the SAN unit (model B800fs) offers is its offsite backup capability. After establishing a link with another Drobo unit either on site or anywhere in the world with an Internet connection, it is possible to schedule automated data syncs between the two units.

An 8-bay Drobo device
devices for businesses function in many ways like those for consumers, except that they offer more robust features and a greater number of drives per bay. A typical consumer-grade Drobo system, for example, might have six drives per bay and cost just a few hundred dollars, while a professional-grade system offers up to 12 drives per bay and retails for a starting price of not much over $2000.

Features that the professional-grade Drobo units offer include up to 24TB of capacity (you can add your own drives or order Drobo units with Western Digital drives pre-loaded), Windows encryption, and OS X Disk Utility 's virtual disk encryption. The SAN units offer virtualization capabilities for software such as VMware. Model B1200i, when it becomes available later this year, will offer thin client provisioning.

The Drobo professional storage launch also shows just how much storage prices have fallen. Investing just over $2000 for in-office storage is a small investment compared to the tens of thousands of dollars a robust NAS or SAN system typically cost just a few years ago. It will be interesting to see how professional-grade storage solutions for SoHos from other vendors evolve, and whether prices will continue to plummet for feature-rich storage.

Bruce covers tech trends in the United States and Europe and tweets at @brucegain.

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