It feels like it was just yesterday that Data Robotics launched their latest product, the DroboApps which are available with the combination of the Drobo and DroboShare. Actually quite some time passed since that. But today we got some news from the Bay Area, home of the Drobo. The newest device is called DroboPro and aimed at Small Businesses (SMB) with 1-99 users.
One big thing right out the box: The DroboPro supports using existing Drobo Volumes. This means: if you already own a Drobo you can just take out the drives, put them in DroboPro and continue using them without loosing your data.
Update: This only applies to second generation Drobos (those with Firewire) or Volumes that were created using Drobo Dashboard v1.0.3 and later. You cannot however use DroboPro Volumes in a Drobo.
The Pro comes with all the usual bells and whistles we know from the regular Drobo like support for growing storage needs. Just plug in an additional drive and get additional space without having to do anything else.
Support for iSCSI and Smart Volumes
New is the integrated Gigabit Ethernet for iSCSI, which makes the device accessible on your network via an iSCSI initiator. Windows comes with its own piece of software, for Mac OS X Data Robotics created their own initiator. It still has plugs for USB and Firewire 800 for those who need it. For more information about iSCSI have a look at this.
Update: I haven’t seen the Mac OS X installation yet, but from what I heard there’s no iSCSI configuration necessary whatsoever. Apple doesn’t offer their own tool for this and even 10.6 (aka Snow Leopard) won’t include the initiator. There are 3rd party offerings but they either are too expensive or weren’t up to par. So, the Drobo team created their own iSCSI initiator. On Windows it depends on the version you’re using. On Windows XP the Drobo Dashboard will check whether the initiator is installed on your system. If it doesn’t find it, it’ll be downloaded from Microsoft. Windows Vista and later come with an iSCSI initiator.
According to first hear-say by Scott Bourne the speedtests using iSCSI sound really good, speaking of speeds twice as fast as the FW800 Drobo.
Update: After meeting with Data Robotics in Munich I was told that DroboPro should get 100 MByte/s with iSCSI and about 50 MB/s on Firewire 800. USB 2.0 is said to be somewhere around the 30 MB/s rate. Firewire on the Pro thus is quicker than on the old Drobo. According to Andy Walsky, Sales Director EMEA for Data Robotics, who I spoke to in Munich, DroboPro uses a dual-core CPU, which is said to increase the transfer rates.
Another nice addition is the support for creating up to 16 Volumes that can each grow to up to 16 TB and can be resized at any point. This makes it handy for small business who want to seperate their data, but will also make single users happy. For example you can seperate your backups from your other data like music, videos or photos.
The DroboPro also supports failsafe operation in case of two drives jumping the shark at the same time. This is a feature that can be turned on and off. Of course this impacts the maximum capacity, you can see how much you get using the online calculator.
A question of size
One question that went through my head was: Why did they go for 8 drives rather than a full size model that fits a 19″ rack? DroboPro instead is a clean desktop chassis, comparable to two regulars Drobos sitting next to each other. Optionally you can get a mounting bracket that makes it possible to put it into your usual 19″ server rack. Why aren’t they using 10 or maybe even 12 drives?
Thing is: there probably isn’t a single answer to that decision.
After a nice conversation with Drobo Germany I got some more possible answers than I already had flying around in my head. The first answer was that they wanted to offer a solution that could be used by SMBs as well as professionals like video- and photographers. The latter don’t necessarily want a noisy, ugly box sitting under their desk. Plus, cooling a bunch of disks also adds to the noise and requires more space.
Another possible answer to this is a limit in their firmware. We’ve seen Drobos for 4 and 8 disks now. Maybe the next step above 8 drives would be 16, which wouldn’t fit a 3U, 19 inch rack with tolerable cooling noise.
Finally, the last option comes from a financial point of view. Maybe Data Robotics wants to check out how many people will actually buy a bigger Drobo before they go all in with a fully fledged rack version that’ll be more expensive than the DroboPro.
Speaking of prices
The DroboPro without drives costs 1.299 USD or 1.199 Euros respectively. It’s available via the DroboStore in additional configurations with drives.
There’s more to come after I get a chance to talk to the Drobo people in SF.