Recently I visited an office lacking network disk space, but found its storage system had empty drive bays. Perplexed, I talked to an overburdened IT administrator, who was frustrated with the file storage system because it was difficult to configure and provision. An office such as this could benefit from investigating the Drobo B1200i.

Rising above the small office/home office (SOHO) market and just below the enterprise market for SANs is the business class Drobo B1200i storage device. For this review, I put Drobo B1200i to the test in a common scenario: provisioning new SAN storage space on a file server.

To get started, I slid six included 2TB Seagate Constellation Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) 7200rpm disks directly into the front slots of the 12-disk bay -- no drive carriages or screws were required. Moving to the rear of the unit, I found a removable expansion card with a network management port and three clearly labeled iSCSI network ports, as Figure 1 shows. (The device provides only iSCSI storage services.) By default, the management port is a DHCP port, so I simply connected it to my LAN through a Category 6 network cable. To immediately take advantage of the storage, I used a Cat 6 network cable to connect the iSCSI 1 port on the Drobo B1200i device to a network card port on my Windows Server 2008 R2 server.

Figure 1: The backside of Drobo B1200i
Figure 1: The backside of Drobo B1200i 

At that point, I just needed power, so I connected the removable and redundant power supplies in the rear. One power supply was a UPS. The other one was a UPS on a dedicated power circuit, which is a common method to provide protection from UPS or circuit failure. I powered up the 3U rack-mountable Drobo B1200i device using the rear power switch. The unit has four rear fans in a single removable unit and two fans in each power supply. Due to the fan noise, it's most at home in the data center or an isolated area for computer systems.

Using a Windows 2008 R2 server (Apple Macintosh is also supported), I installed the management console with a few clicks, then watched it easily locate the Drobo B1200i device by searching the network. The easy-to-use dashboard features a clickable representation of a Drobo B1200i device, as Figure 2 shows. You use this slick GUI to not only check the status of the storage disks but also to configure the storage device. After I configured the IP addresses for the network card port on the server and the iSCSI 1 port on the Drobo B1200i device, network connectivity was established.

Figure 2: The management console for Drobo B1200i
Figure 2: The management console for Drobo B1200i 

The best part of using Drobo B1200i was provisioning storage on the server. I added a 2TB volume through the New Simple Volume Wizard by selecting NTFS as the format type, choosing a drive letter, and specifying the volume size. The management console configured the iSCSI initiator in Windows, formatted the partition, and automatically created the volume in Windows. Although I used NTFS, other format types are available. Notably, the multi-host format type is available for virtualization servers (e.g., VMware vSphere, Citrix Systems XenServer), and the HFS+ format type is available for Macs.

Drobo B1200i automatically manages storage. It aggregates all available storage into a single thin provisioned storage pool in order to allow overprovisioning of disk space. If you reach the maximum storage capacity, you can simply add more drives or add larger drives to the storage pool. Drobo B1200i doesn't perform deduplication.

The ease with which you can expand storage capacity as well as recover from a failure is impressive. In my testing, I added a few consumer-grade drives to the storage mix. One failed soon afterward and another was too small for production use, so I swapped them both out with 2TB drives. Drobo's proprietary BeyondRAID technology, which is configured to protect from two-drive failures by default, rebuilt the data protection for the array and expanded the drive space at the same time. No configuration was necessary.

Drobo B1200i is appropriate for business and enterprises. It has many benefits for super busy IT administrators, such as user-replaceable modular components, easy-to-provision storage, and easy-to-expand storage for the growing drive needs of businesses.

Drobo B1200i
PROS: Quick setup and expandability; excellent disk and power supply redundancy; multiplatform support; easy-to-use management software; well documented
CONS: All network interfaces on one physical card; no same-day support options
RATING: 4.5 out of 5
PRICE: $11,995 for 12TB (six 2TB hard disk drives); $14,995 for 24TB (twelve 2TB hard disk drives); $17,995 for 18TB (nine 2TB hard disk drives); $17,995 for 600GB (three 200GB solid state drives)
RECOMMENDATION: Setting up a SAN can be difficult, but the Drobo can be installed by IT pros in an afternoon. It features redundancy where it's most needed -- in disks and power supplies. Well documented, it's a truly expandable system that's appropriate for virtualization environments, file servers, disk-to-disk backup storage, and more. Support for Mac, VMware, Linux, and multiple versions of Windows rounds out this versatile SAN.
CONTACT: Drobo • 866-997-6268 or 408-276-8400