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Drobo B810n Review

Small businesses struggling with big RAID decisions will find Drobo’s innovative storage appliances offer a far simpler alternative. The B810n on review may look like a standard 8-bay desktop NAS appliance but there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes that make it quite unique.

Drobo’s BeyondRAID technology is designed for users that don’t want the hassle of configuring and managing RAID arrays so it has automated everything. It allows you to mix and match SATA drives of different capacities, replace failed drives on the fly and upgrade capacity with larger drives whenever you want.

A smart feature of BeyondRAID becomes apparent should you suffer a drive failure. Whereas a standard RAID5 array will go into a degraded state, BeyondRAID automatically redistributes data blocks onto the remaining drives (providing there is sufficient space) allowing redundancy to be maintained.

To rebuild a RAID5 array requires a new drive of the same capacity or larger to be inserted. For high capacity drives, the rebuild could take days and should another drive fail during this time, you’ll have lost the lot.

Clever BeyondRAID

We used Drobo’s accurate web calculator to see how much usable space we’d get from our hard disk mix

BeyondRAID automatically places all available hard disks into a virtual storage pool – you simply insert them in the B810n and stand back. It works at the block level so you can use drives of differing capacities and Drobo has a quick calculator on its web site that’ll tell you what your total capacity will be when mixing them.

The appliance is very solidly built and uses carrier-free bays where you push the hard disks in until the lever at the front locks. Deployment is smooth as we followed the web-based tutorial and installed the Drobo Dashboard remote management tool when prompted.

We tested BeyondRAID’s efficacy by loading a wide mix of drives comprising two 10TB Seagate IronWolfs, and two 8TB Seagate NAS HDDs plus 4TB, 3TB and 2TB Western Digital Red Pro drives. We literally had to do nothing further as in under 30 minutes, the Dashboard had upgraded the appliance’s firmware and created a storage pool with single drive redundancy.

The web site calculator advised us that this mix would give us 31.5TB of usable storage with 9.5TB set aside for protection. A quick check on the Dashboard’s Capacity page showed this to be a very accurate estimate.

Monitoring and features

From the Dashboard, we created NAS users and assigned read and read/write share access privileges. Installing the Dashboard on each desktop also allows shares to be mapped to them with a couple of mouse clicks.

The appliance provides plenty of visual status cues as each drive lever has a multi-colour status LED while a vertical light bar up the right-hand side of the appliance shows used capacity. This information is mirrored in the Dashboard status view which also provides options for email alerting

The appliance supports remote replication to another B810n and the DroboDR feature also replicates user accounts and privileges. A new feature is automated data tiering using SSDs but you will need to source your own 2.5in. to 3.5in. converter trays to allows SSDs to be slotted in

Drobo won’t be worrying the likes of Qnap or Synology for app choices but the B810n does provide ones for remote access, WordPress web site hosting and mobile photo backup which includes a handy geo-location feature. The B810n can also host the open-source ownCloud app for private cloud storage and file syncing services.

Performance

Even though the B810n is endowed with a lowly 1.2GHz quad-core Marvell CPU and non-upgradeable 2GB of DDR3 memory, we found performance over a single Gigabit link to be quite reasonable. With a share mapped to a Lenovo System x3550 M5 Windows server, we watched Iometer report sequential read and write rates of 113MB/sec and 112MB/sec.

Real world speeds were just as good with copies of a 25GB file returning read and write averages of 112.5MB/sec and 111.4MB/sec. Our backup test was also handled well with a 22.4GB test folder containing 10,500 small files secured at 81MB/sec.

The appliance’s dual Gigabit ports can be bonded together for extra fault tolerance but we found performance couldn’t be pushed much higher. Mapping dedicated shares to two Windows servers, saw cumulative Iometer read and write speeds only increase slightly to 116MB/sec and 114MB/sec.

Fast recovery

It’s easy to register an iOS device with the DroboPix app for simple photo backup linked up with geo-location

To simulate an array failure, we simply ejected the 2TB drive from the appliance while it was on active duty. All drive indicators starting flashing amber and the Dashboard popped up a warning message advising us not to remove any other drives while it recovered the array.

Impressively, it only took 11 minutes to restore full redundancy across the remaining drives. We had Iometer running on a share and during the recovery phase, we saw performance only fall slightly to 108MB/sec.

Another handy feature of BeyondRAID is its ability to swap from single to dual-parity and back again – something no other RAID controller can do. We changed our array to dual-drive redundancy which dropped usable capacity down to 21.9TB and only took an hour to complete.

Conclusion

If RAID research leaves you cold but you want a NAS with data protection you can trust then the B810n is to be recommended. Costing $1,019, the B810n is $170 more that Synology’s 8-bay DS1817 which beats it easily for features as it supports both NAS and IP SAN services and has dual 10GBase-T ports.

However, as we’ve found with both Synology and Qnap, you have to think carefully about storage configurations as they present you with more RAID array options than you can shake a stick at. Drobo’s slick BeyondRAID takes all the guesswork out of storage configuration while array recovery operations are extremely fast and virtually transparent.

8 Total Score

However, as we’ve found with both Synology and Qnap, you have to think carefully about storage configurations as they present you with more RAID array options than you can shake a stick at. Drobo’s slick BeyondRAID takes all the guesswork out of storage configuration while array recovery operations are extremely fast and virtually transparent.

Performance
7.5
Features
7
Build Quality
9
Usability
10
Value
6.5
PROS
  • Extremely easy installation
  • RAID knowledge not required
  • Smart BeyondRAID technology
  • Very fast array rebuilds
  • Single and dual-parity support
CONS
  • Comparatively expensive
  • NAS services only
  • Modest hardware spec
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