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Data Robotics, Inc. DroboPro 8-Bay In-depth Review

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Data Robotics
Tagged:

Performance, Price, and Conclusion

Performance


*correction*: This chart originally stated eSATA in place of iSCSI.  This was in error and has been corrected.

We saw maximum read throughput over iSCSI with as low as 3 drives installed.  The same maximum speed was attainable using either single or dual redundancy modes, proving the pair of Marvell ARM processors is able to crunch the data faster than even the iSCSI interface can move it. 
iSCSI throughput showed itself to be fairly close to maximum theoretical iSCSI throughput over Gigabit.

There were scenarios where writes dropped lower than anticipated.  These situations were found to be the result of data not being evenly spread across the installed drives.  Since Drobo's metadata system does not require a full rebuild upon adding a new drive, it will bias its writes after you add a new one to the mix, favoring it on new writes.  As a result, write speeds may drop to as low as that of the emptiest (newest) drive until everything gets leveled out again, at which time writes return to the limits noted above.  The lowest I could get write speeds was 35 MB/sec - caused by adding a 250GB drive to a nearly full set of 5x2TB drives.  Writes returned to normal after moving enough data for the DroboPro to properly utilize the added 250GB unit.

We noted reads and writes to take a very small hit if healing was taking place.  The DroboPro was pretty good about keeping background activity out of the way.

Price

DroboPro
lists at $1499 for the bare model.  They offer the units for
sale
direct from their web site, along with multiple combo deals including
various hard drive sizes.  Some of the combo deals, as well as
the
bare unit, can be found around the web for a few hundred less.
 Some quick math revealed they appear to be passing along the
hard
drives at very close to cost, leaving their only mark-up limited to the
unit itself.  Some may prefer the bundle deals as they
eliminate
some of the hassle and may make corporate buyers lives a bit easier as
they can spec out and order the whole unit ready to go from one source.

Drobo
occasionally run rebate promotions on their products.  There
was a
$100 rebate on DroboPro from 14-30 SEP, and at this writing there
is a $60 rebate on DroboPro (until 30 November).  Kudos
for putting the rebates right on their own site instead of making users
hunt for them.
 While researching the rebates I discovered they are provided
in
the form of a pre-paid credit card.  This can be either good
or
bad, depending on your preference.  Money is money as far as
I'm concerned.

I
know, don't tell me.  $1499 is pretty steep considering that
is
the price before adding any drives.  I admit I
cringed a
bit at the cost when I first saw it.  After some analysis of
what
I've spent on my own RAID solutions over the years, that price starts to not
seem so bad.  Consider a rough outline of a system that would
be
spec'd with functionality similar to that of the DroboPro, but using
off-the-shelf hardware.  I did just that, surfing for
what I
would consider using in a hypothetical system, and trying my best
to match the hardware features of the DroboPro.

Item Internal External
Case Antec 900 with 2x 4-bay hot swap: $270 8-bay
external: $319 - $679
RAID card Areca ARC-1220: $440 Areca ARC-1221x: $580
Battery
Back Up
Areca ARC-6120: $110 Areca ARC-6120: $110
System PCPer HW
Leaderboard 'Budget': $548
PCPer HW
Leaderboard 'Budget': $548
Total $1368 $1557-$1917

The
above setups, even equipped with high-end RAID hardware, are lacking in
that no hardware RAID cards employ BeyondRAID and are therefore unable
to 'switch on the fly' like the Drobo units can.  You would
not get the convenience of cage-less hard disk swaps (i.e. no tools
required).  The above units also significantly lack
portability
and
connectivity.  The external units require an eSATA equipped
system
wherever they would be connected (with matching RAID hardware to
properly mount the array), while the internal array could
only
be moved with the
system enclosing it.  I realize RAID setups can be done for
less, but remember I had to go with a 72-hour rated battery backup unit
to match that of the DroboPro, and was trying to get close
to the fit and
finish of Drobo as well.  The ultimate throughput of
the
above
configurations would exceed that of the DroboPro, as 8
parallel
SATA channels can move data much faster than Gigabit Ethernet,
but
this is the only area where Drobo takes a back seat.
 That said, there are very few occasions where greater than
GIG-e
speeds are needed from this type of mass storage device.
 GIG-e
throughput can handle the vast majority of home network needs
(including that of some small businesses).

Conclusion:

Pros:

  • Incredibly easy to use

  • Included Dashboard software also very easy to use

  • BeyondRAID adds too many features to even list here
  • 8-bay storage in a compact and portable form
  • Whisper quiet operation with thermally controlled fans
  • Excellent transfer speeds over Gigabit Ethernet

Cons:

  • No eSATA

  • Price is high (but you get what you pay for)

Data Robotics have proven themselves to be a serious contender in the storage hardware arena.  When I began this review, I'll admit I was skeptical.  I've never trusted proprietary RAID hardware, well, until now that is.  After literally months of doing my absolute best to try and trick this thing into losing data, I must now yield to the DroboPro.

Vote for our submission at Slashdot!

For its unique ability to satisfy both novices and power users
alike, as well as its ability to retain its data in the face of
dozens of sabotage attempts in our lab, I have no choice but to give the
DroboPro my highest recommendation in the area of redundant mass
storage:


I drank the Drobo Kool-Aid, and boy was it yummy!
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