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4/7/2009
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Drobo Goes Pro With 8-Bay Storage Device

Data Robotics has released an new upmarket version of its popular Drobo storage solution, designed to be bigger, faster, safer, easier -- and rack mountable!

Data Robotics has released an new upmarket version of its popular Drobo storage solution, designed to be bigger, faster, safer, easier -- and rack mountable!"The sub-$10,000 storage market is underserved," contends Thomas J. Loverro, director of product marketing for Data Robotics, especially as smaller companies continue to experience huge data growth rates.

The Drobo Pro is designed to help fill that voice by bringing "RAID 2.0" to small businesses, branch offices, and franchise locations.

The original 4-bay Drobo was launched in June 2007, and the $500 device's combination of hot-swappable "BeyondRAID" technology has proved a popular choice among creative professionals and other Prosumers, in addition to regular small businesses. The unit functions like a RAID device, storing data across all available drives, but uses its own proprietary software that lets users mix disk brands, capacities, and speeds. The Drobo supports up to 25 users per unite, Loverro said.

The Drobo Pro starts at $1,299 (without drives, it accepts any SATA hard drive), and rack-mountable units fully loaded with 16 TB of storage in its eight hot-swappable bays can cost up to $3,995. The extra cash buys you a dual-core processor (the Drobo uses a single-core ARM chip, iSCSI connections with Gigabit Ethernet (in addition to USB and Firewire 800), extra memory, and a newly optimized code base. Loverro says the Drobo Pro can support up to 100 users per unit and is targeted at SMBs using Microsoft Small Business Server and Microsoft Exchange.

The big difference, though, is in the software. According to Loverro, the Drobo Pro lets users switch betwen single and dual-drive redundancy with a single click. And while the Drobo created a single large SmartVolume to hold all the data, the Drobo Pro lets users create multiple SmartVolumes, all of which exist as separate logical entities independent of the actual storage held in the unit. Loverro claimed that kind of technology -- common in high-end storage solutions, but "new to the SMB space" -- makes it much simpler to manage your storage options.

I saw a live demo, and the unit actually seemed quite simple to manage, with green, red, and yellow lights clearly indicating how much storage is available (there's also a software dashboard).

drobopro The front panel of the Drobo Pro, with the cover removed.

The big question, of course, is where does a device like the Drobo Pro fit into an SMB's choice of storage options? It's a big step up from a collection of external hard drives, with much more security, manageability and redundancy. But it's still not true network attached storage (NAS), like the Synology units I wrote about recently -- but those don't come in 8-bay versions. Oh, and in case you're dense like me, Loverro explained that "Drobo" is a contraction of "Data Robotics." You know, like D-Wade is a contraction of hoopster Dwayne Wade, but with a different pronunciation.

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