At CES this past January, we sat down with Drobo's CTO, Rod Harrison. We discussed several topics at our meeting, including our testing and why the company's systems struggle with our synthetic workloads. We also discussed what's in store for the company's larger systems in the future.
We've tested three network-attached devices from Drobo, including the B810i. All three systems perform as advertised and we can check a box next to every marketing claim associated with each system. We can verify, and even swear by, the ease-of-use claims and the over-simplified Drobo software.
The problem we've found is that Drobo doesn't make many marketing claims. We haven't found any performance information associated with their network-attached devices. If you want to research performance the information has to come from a third-party, such as someone who purchased a unit. When you dive into the company's website and analyze the content, it becomes clear that many of the claims are intentionally vague. The Date-Aware Tiering feature serves as an example. The website says it increases performance, and our testing shows it, but we only measured a minimal increase in most workloads. There isn't a lot of guidance for what you should expect without diving in head first. In this case, it means purchasing two high-endurance SSDs that may or may not accelerate your workload.
Drobo plans to increase the performance of its systems in the future. Drobo launched a new 5-bay 5N2 model that it dubs "The Next Era In Storage." It includes the claim of "up to 2x performance boost." We can only assume that is against the previous generation 5N that we tested in 2016. The 5N2 features a new processor and hopefully more system memory that allows it to run more applications simultaneously.
Over the last year, Drobo has increased the number of applications available for its NAS. The company doesn't want just to throw a bunch of applications at the wall and see what sticks like some other companies. The application additions thus far have all been strategic.
We also discussed the B810n and B810i systems. Drobo is looking at a way to make one unified model in the future and allow users to select either a NAS or a SAN in the software. This means you will not have to worry about which model to purchase--you can have both functions in one system. Sadly, you will only get to run one or the other. Your NAS will not have SAN functionality while still working over SMB/CIFS.
That leads us to where we are now with the B810i. The system originally retailed for $1600, much like the B810n. We had sticker shock with the B810n in our review, but the cost of both systems has come down significantly. The systems are now in line with other 8-bay products at $849 (B810n) and $1089 (B810i). The B810i's new price point makes it much more competitive in the market.
Pricing can't change performance, though. The Drobo B810i is still underpowered for heavy workloads. The system would fit in well with 10 to 40 active users, but in some tasks, like backing up Windows, the system administrator will want to stagger the process to prevent overwhelming the SAN and causing the process to take longer than necessary.
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