Drobo B800i review
With Drobo’s new series of IP SAN appliances, the focus has moved firmly on to business usage. The new eight-bay B800i is similar to the DroboElite, but Drobo advised us it has upgraded the controller hardware.
Drobo declined to tell us precisely what had been improved, but whatever it was it made an impact in our performance tests. Using a dual-Opteron 4100 Dell PowerEdge R515 rack server running Windows Server 2008 R2 64-bit, Iometer returned a top raw read speed of 112MB/sec for a 500GB target. That’s slightly faster than the DroboElite’s 105MB/sec.
Real world tests over Gigabit Ethernet were also good, with drag and drop copies of a 2.52GB video clip returning sustained read and write speeds of 99MB/sec and 92MB/sec. Small files were handled well, with a 17.4GB collection of 10,500 files copied to a virtual volume at a rate of 60MB/sec.
The latest SMB NAS appliances now offer extensive IP SAN features, so what makes the B800i stand out? Drobo’s BeyondRAID technology is a key feature, allowing you to mix and match hard disks of different brands and capacities in the same RAID array.
Once upon a time this feature made the Drobo appliances unique, but today the A-Listed DS1511+ (web ID: 366463) offers Synology’s Hybrid RAID feature for the same purpose. The B800i also provides iSCSI thin provisioning, but this is supported by the latest appliances from Synology, Qnap and Thecus.
Drobo’s support for single and dual-parity arrays is still unique, however. The array defaults to single parity but can be changed to dual parity as required. If you can’t take the hit on storage capacity you can revert to single parity, which is something no other RAID controller can do.
The B800i also takes the pain out of IP SAN deployment. You start with a direct USB connection to the appliance and use the Dashboard utility to configure the two Gigabit data ports, after which you can diconnect the USB cable.
The Dashboard is installed on all hosts that want to access the B800i, and Drobo has redesigned it so all features are accessible from a single interface. During volume creation you can decide on sizes from 1TB to 16TB, and the new multi-host feature allows up to eight hosts to share the same volume. After selecting the mount option, the Dashboard automatically configures the Microsoft iSCSI initiator and makes the volume available with your chosen drive letter and name.
The Drobo Copy tool has also been integrated into the Dashboard, and is used to run scheduled backups of folders and system files on the host to a selected folder on a virtual volume. After the first copy has completed, all subsequent runs will only copy new files and changes to existing ones.
The B800i makes light work of IP SAN configuration and is well suited to SMBs with limited IT expertise. Alas, at £2,739 for a diskless appliance it’s expensive, particularly as some of its key features have now made their way down to lower cost NAS appliances.
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