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Attack of the Data Storage Robots

droboI was pretty intrigued by the short bit Scoble wrote about Drobo today after Gizmodo posted their story. Data Robotics has come up with an almost idiot-proof external storage array. To hit the highlights, it connects to a Mac or PC with USB 2.0 (480 Mbps theoretical maximum) and requires no special software – Drobo manages the storage all by itself – so it just looks like a big USB drive to your computer.

There are a few features that I really appreciate about their solution…

  • There are simple LED indicator lights that tell you if the drives are healthy and if the array is getting full.
  • SATA drives are added through the front of a very slick tool-less chassis. The drive chassis may be the coolest feature I’ve seen – I’d like to have that setup in my server case.
  • Drobo makes sure that your data is protected.
  • You can expand the size of the array at any time by adding additional drives (there are four slots) or swapping out smaller drivers for larger drives.
  • It supports both Mac and PC hosts
  • The external case has a cool design that I wouldn’t mind seeing on my desk.

It might not be ideal for everyone. It’s still an external drive enclosure so it requires a host computer and cannot be connected to ethernet directly as Network Attached Storage (NAS). I’m not sure how quiet it is either, which would be important for a HTPC media storage application. That said, it could be a great solution for the photographer or graphic artist that needs a large storage solution that can protect her data and still grow over time.

If you want to see what I’m talking about, I highly recommend the demonstration video on the Drobo site.

About the only thing that I don’t like about Drobo is the grammatical error in their tagline, “Drobo – whose minding the storage.”

For those looking for a NAS, this newish solution from Promise looks interesting. Of course, I like my personal budget server (based on Solaris), but it doesn’t have the convenience of these stand-alone solutions, even if it does cost a lot less and have more flexibility and capabilities.

  1. aboyko
    April 8th, 2007 at 19:30 | #1

    Wondering how you’re dealing with, in your Solaris server, what these off-the-shelf solutions seem to typically provide via LEDs: how to know which drive failed. I’ve been looking at the 8-port SuperMicro SATA card that’s about $110 and apparently particularly well & natively supported by Solaris (’cause it’s the same chipset in whatever Sun box has 8 SATA ports), but I’m fearful of what happens when your first of the inevitable drive failures occurs in your 12-drive box — how do you identify which drive has actually failed? I’m a Solaris newbie, and, tainted by Linux, am mistrustful that c0t4 (for example) is consistently going to be the fifth port on the card. Does it end up working out OK?

  2. April 8th, 2007 at 21:16 | #2

    @aboyko – this is a great question and one that I haven’t answered to my full satisfaction yet. ZFS doesn’t invent anything new here and relies on the underlying fault management system in Solaris. FMA can respond to a failed drive in a pool and bring a hot spare online automatically (assuming the spare was properly configured with zpool). Notifications are written to the syslog so you can rely on (standard?) methods of acting on syslog entries. Personally, I don’t run a dedicated syslog server, or run a full-blown NMS on my home network to trap SNMP messages. For now, I’m using ssh to the solaris server and running the “zpool status” command to see what is happening. If I find something better, I’ll post about it here.

    Also, I know what you mean about identifying drives solely based on the /dev name. It frustrates me too.

    The Drobo does have a distinct advantage here. If you’re not into tinkering with your own *nix server and just want redundant storage, the Drobo is a great choice as long as you can live with the limitations and the cost.

  3. scott
    April 17th, 2007 at 09:18 | #3

    @Weldon – any chance you could describe how you got SSH up and running? I’m having trouble doing so… the service appears to be running, yet I can’t seem to ssh in remotely.

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