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Drobo B1200i hybrid array redesigned for high-capacity HDDs

The Drobo B1200i rackmount hybrid array gets an update, expanding storage pools to 128 TB and adding thin provisioning for up to 255 volumes.

Drobo Inc. today upgraded the rack-mounted version of its B1200i hybrid storage array with larger capacity hard drives and faster drive rebuilds.

The revamped Drobo B1200i platform supports up to 12 of the 6 TB SATA drives for 72 TB of raw storage, or a mix of hard disk drives (HDDs) and solid-state drives (SSDs). Two SSDs are required for mirroring. The vendor also said it had certified 6 TB Enterprise NAS drives by Seagate Technology.

Drobo aims the iSCSI block storage platform at business users, mainly SMBs. Previous iterations were available with a desktop chassis, which is being discontinued.

Projected use cases include virtualization and disk-to-disk backup. The B1200i appliance could be outfitted with all SSDs for persistent storage, although the performance will not match larger all-flash arrays. Drobo arrays include an operating system and CPU to provide ease-of-use features, which contributes to network latency.

B1200i RAID rebuilds expand storage pools, volumes

Drobo redesigned the firmware for its BeyondRAID technology to expand the storage pool to 128 TB, up from 32 TB previously. The upgrade enables application threading across multiple CPU cores.

BeyondRAID enables different drive types and drive capacities to be mixed in a single chassis. Instead of using standby drives, BeyondRAID's firmware recognizes when drives are added to the storage pool and automatically rebuilds the array.

Drobo sets up zones within each storage pool and maps the zones to physical storage. If there is no physical storage for a particular zone, BeyondRAID assigns a code that reserves the zone for future storage that is allocated to the pool. Drobo will alert users of approaching capacity limits and prompt them to add storage.

Earlier B1200i models were compatible with 6 TB HDDs, but Drobo did not provide technical support if the larger capacity drives failed. The vendor said the refresh will also enable users to add 8 TB and 10 TB drives when they hit the market.

Volume sizes increase by fourfold, from 16 TB to 64 TB. The addition of thin provisioning permits the creation of up to 255 volumes per B1200i appliance. BeyondRAID uses a common pool of disks to establish volumes. Free space is returned to the storage pool as folders or files are deleted.

The Drobo B1200i is available as an all-HDD version with 72 TB of capacity for $13,799. Two hybrid models are offered with three 240 GB SSDs: one includes 48 TB of disk storage for $12,599 and the other comes with 36 TB of disk storage for $8,499. Drobo also sells an unpopulated B1200i chassis for about $3,999. Customers add their own drives to that lowest cost system.

The B1200i slots in behind Drobo's Mini, 5D and 5N hybrid platforms for desktop storage.

Drobo tries moving up flash array food chain

Drobo began as a consumer and prosumer vendor before adding systems for businesses. It is trying to crack larger customers with the latest system.

Drobo equipped the B1200i with three Gigabit Ethernet connections that can be trunked. The device also features hot-swappable power and cooling.

"They are pretty obviously trying to move up the food chain to serve larger businesses, whereas before they have been focused on personal storage and small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs)," said Deni Connor, an analyst with Storage Strategies Now. "I think Drobo has seen what (all-flash) companies like Pure Storage and Tegile have done and are working towards being able to match them."

George Crump, president of IT analyst firm Storage Switzerland, cited performance enhancements that Drobo made to the B1200i. He said his firm also is a Drobo customer.

"One thing is they added is more processing 'oomph.' The other thing was enabling their software to make more efficient use of the flash," Crump said.

The challenge for Drobo, Crump said, will be convincing larger companies that its storage can deliver in high-performance networks.

"I think the reality is the Drobo will play in the 'M' part of the SMB market. Most companies in that space are probably still using one-GigE and probably won't be upgrading to 10 GigE anytime soon. It's a section of the market that is still undecided on a particular vendor of choice. A lot of vendors are doing low-end NAS type stuff, but not a lot of vendors are doing low-end block storage," Crump said.

Next Steps

Drobo and Connected Data join forces 

Seagate adds 6 TB E-NAS hard drives for SMBs

Dig Deeper on Small-midsized Business SAN

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How does your SMB use hybrid flash storage?
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Solid-state storage has truly become pervasive and low enough in cost to be included in SMB products like this new Drobo box. With 1 GigE networks still pervasive in smaller businesses, it will be interesting to see if these hybrid arrays push the processing bottleneck out into the network.
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Minimally. I view hybrid flash storage as a developing technology, and one likely to have significant improvement in the near future - as such, I've decided to hold off on implementing it into our business. Besides, most of our employees don't need the benefits this type of storage provides - at the level VMware and similar software operates on, you won't always see a lot of the benefits that flash drives are intended to be used for.
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Our business is fairly small, so hybrid flash arrays like this one are a pretty good fit. The price to performance ratio fits our needs.
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