Drobo was one of the first companies to introduce redundant storage appliances to the home. It initially focused on direct-attached configurations, but after seeing successful network-attached products from Infrant and Anthology Solutions, Drobo added Ethernet to some of its offerings. Though it fell on hard times and changed hands more than once, Drobo is in the middle of a reboot and is focusing on simple, yet powerful storage systems for professionals.
From the onset, Drobo products had to pass a simple test: anyone, regardless of computer experience, should be able to set them up and get them working. This emphasis carries through to the hardware introduced in 2016. In the same vein, focusing on simplicity limits the hardware's capabilities compared to the competition.
Drobo's management changes over the years noticeably slowed the development of new products. For the most part, though, its latest offerings look a lot like the old ones. Their features are also similar, which is to say they don't introduce many fresh ideas.
Still, the company is fairly open about its past, present and future. Drobo CEO Mihir H. Shah recently published a brief roadmap, discussing the brand's resurrection and plans for 2016. At CES in January, we sat down with Shah and a few key members of the management team. In our meeting, we encountered an enthusiastic group of industry insiders with a plan to take Drobo to the next level.
Today, we're testing the B810n, Drobo's first new product with Shah at the helm. It's a large, eight-bay system that remains easy to use, but adds next-gen capabilities like data-aware tiering (SSD cache). The platform is now open to third-party software developers, so we expect to see more apps if the hardware really starts catching on. And Drobo is addressing past complaints about its customer support by promising a better user experience throughout the product's life.
Drobo chose a quad-core SoC from Marvell for its B810n with 2GB of embedded DDR3 memory, whichis the first time we've seen such a combination in a system costing nearly $1600. It's also the first time we've tested an appliance in this price range without iSCSI support. Drobo sells a separate product with iSCSI─its B810i.
The eight hot-swappable drive bays support Drobo's proprietary BeyondRAID technology. You get two options: one for single redundancy and one for dual redundancy. Using the latest 8TB disks, you can get up to 64TB of storage in a single array. Matched drives aren't required, either. Feel free to install a 2TB disk alongside three 1TB drives; the system does the math to make a redundant array out of what you have. If you need more capacity, simply slide another drive in and let the platform manage the expansion.
Drobo is introducing SSD cache functionality through an auto-tiering mechanism that utilizes up to three solid-state drives. Moving forward, this should be a standard feature on the company's other appliances.
Information moves to and from the B810n through two GbE ports that can operate together in linked mode or in an active/passive (fail-over) model. We were able to install the system on two separate networks with different subnets. There is no empty PCIe slot for 10 GbE upgrades, unfortunately.
Inside the system, we found a large battery that should help in-flight data reach non-volatile storage in the event of a power loss event. When power is restored, the data moves from the flash back to system memory.
Pricing, Warranty And Accessories
Drobo's B810n sports an MSRP of $1,600, but we've seen the pricing slip since the initial release. At the time of writing, the Drobo Store included two hard drives with your purchase. We managed to find the system for as low as $1,517, but without the bundled disks at other etailers.
The B810n is protected by a paltry one-year warranty, though you can purchase an extension through DroboCare. One more year of coverage costs $379, while three years sells for $999. Pricing is model-dependent, so we'd expect the coverage on other devices to be different. Here's what the company says about its warranty product:
DroboCare is simple, powerful protection for your Drobo storage. The DroboCare support program extends your peace of mind beyond the standard warranty term and phone support included with your Drobo purchase. In fact, DroboCare gives you more, even during your standard warranty period.
Drobo sells one additional accessory for the B810n, a rack-mountable adapter for $200.
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