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Across virtually all walks of network storage, RAID undeniably rules supreme and for good reason; it offers reliable data protection that has been tried and tested for many, many years. However, this does make it very tough for new storage technologies to break this monopoly but Data Robotics aims to buck the trend with its Drobo desktop storage solution. Here we take a look at the Drobo and its latest DroboShare companion that turns it from DAS to NAS.
There are a number of areas where RAID can be a pain as it doesn't lend itself well to mixing hard disks of different capacities. It's also not the simplest technology to understand either as you have so many different types of arrays to choose from - do you go for stripes, mirrors, spans, JBODs, stripes with parity, dual parity - there's a lot to ponder? The Drobo aims to take all these decisions away from you by automating the entire process and looking after data protection completely behind the scenes.
The technology behind the Drobo is quite sophisticated as it works at the block level to provide data redundancy. Use one drive and you have no redundancy, add two and the second is used for redundancy and so on. However, the smart part is that the Drobo presents all the storage as a single virtual pool - the more disks you add, the bigger it gets. Upgrading storage is easy, too, as you merely remove the smallest drive and add a larger one leaving the Drobo to rebuild the pool.
Physically, the Drobo is no larger than a standard desktop NAS appliance. Drive installation is completely tool-free as they slide into the unit and are held in place by a locking lever. The front is adorned with a wealth of indicators and a row of ten LEDs along the bottom give visual cues to the percentage of used capacity. Each drive has LEDs that show their status and also the capacity of the pool and how close it is getting to being full. If one is flashing red this denotes a drive failure so you simply pull it out and put a new one in.
As a DAS appliance the Drobo is short on ports as all you have is a single USB 2.0 connection. However, it functions just like any other external storage box and we had no problems installing it on a Boston Supermicro dual 3GHz Xeon 5160 system running Windows Vista. It appears as a standard hard disk which can be accessed and formatted from the Disk Management screen. The Drobo always presents its pool to the host systems as a 2TB volume irrespective on what drives are actually installed. The reasoning behind this is that it allows you to expand capacity with the minimum of fuss and when physical storage exceeds 2TB the appliance will simply create a second volume.