Network-attached storage appliances combine the worlds of hardware and software. We often focus on the former, since that's the muscle. The software side is more subjective; what impresses me might not do anything for you.
Some of the built-in features are part of a company's DNA. These features are staples of what users should expect from many, if not all, of the company's network-attached products. In the list below, we find many of the core features of Drobo's network-attached storage products like the 5N and B810n. Some of these carry over to the direct attached and iSCSI network products, as well.
- Common Internet File System (CIFS)
- Server Message Block (SMB)
- Apple Filing Protocol (AFP)
- Thin Provisioning
- Instant Expansion
- Mixed Drive Size Utilization
- Automatic Protection Levels
- Dual Disk Redundancy
- Virtual Hot Spare
- Data Aware
- Drive Re-Ordering
- Drive Bay Indicator Lights
- Capacity Gauge Lights
- Status Lights
- Drobo Dashboard (Host System Software)
- 1 Gigabit Ethernet
- Jumbo Frame Support (Up To 9000 Bytes MTU)
Additional Software Features
- Data-Aware Tiering
- OS X Time Machine Support
- Drive Spin Down
- Light Dimming
Drobo provides a simple user interface that reminds us more of what you'd find on a phone or tablet, rather than a gateway to a powerful server. The software runs in your system tray; it's not a browser-based GUI like nearly every other network-attached product on the market. There are only a few pages to navigate, some of which lack any place for user interaction.
We find some buttons to click on after moving past the status pages. On the first pictured page, we're able to switch from single- to double-disk redundancy. It's a one-click operation. The system spends a few minutes preparing the drives, shuffling data and restarting, but the process is relatively quick. The second screen allows us to build network share folders. You can also map the folders to your local PC with two clicks, which avoids building the shares in Windows. You need to install Drobo's software if you want to use this feature on more than one system. You can also map the folder through Windows without the software, but we suspect some customers won't be familiar with that task.
DroboDR is a feature we didn't expect to see. It's an updated version of Drobo Sync that allows anyone with two B810ns to mirror data between them. It doesn't matter if the two systems are in the same physical location. Business-class users with one unit at the office and the other at home will love the feature for its remote replication. The same is true for larger companies with satellite offices. Much like Drobo's other features, DroboDR is very easy to configure.
Drobo recently opened its platform up to third-party developers. For now, though, there are only a few applications available. The company may discover that running several of these apps at a time requires more processing power and memory than expected.
Not long before we published this story, Drobo released its Access feature, which allows users to retrieve their data from remote locations. We can only hope that the steady rollout of new capabilities will happen quickly.
The popular video distribution software Plex is on the list, but we didn't have time to test it beyond two streams. You can read about all of the other add-ons here.
The operating environment automatically configures network settings, email configurations and system update tools. However, you can manually change them if you need to.
Drobo built help and support links into its Dashboard software, so if you do encounter an issue, it shouldn't be difficult to hail assistance.