Where to now for the data robot?
Limited options one way but wide open another
Comment Data Robotics has the great mass of business data centre computing closed off but the small business market is wide open and waiting for Drobo-isation.
We talked to Tom Buiocchi, Data Robotics CEO, and also to Paul Thackeray, the EMEA VP, to get a picture of the Drobo company just after it had announced its refreshed 8-bay business Drobo line and its new top-end 12-bay product with thin provisioning and automated tiering.
The Drobo (Data ROBOt) is a unique product in terms of its feature set, which includes the so-called Beyond RAID protection, which enables users to populate the Drobo's drive bays with their own choice of 3.5-inch drives, choosing their own manufacturer and capacity levels. The user interface is a simple one based on red, blue and green indicator lights. These indicate drive health as well as capacity uptake, thus signalling when a drive update is needed to add more capacity.
Lastly the Drobo has a neat curvy cornered black enclosure. These three features don't sound much, but we understand that the firmware behind Beyond RAID, the key Drobo attribute, took two years to produce. We also understand that Data Robotics' founder Geoff Barrall had a very particular idea of what the device would look like, its features, and how it should present them to users. He was, we believe, quite persistent and insistent that the Drobo device should match his conception.
Today there is still no competing product that matches and exceeds the Drobo's functionality and feature set,
After Barrall left and went on to Overland Storage the Data Robotics board appointed Tom Buiocchi, an executive in residence at a Mohr Davidow Ventures, with strong sales and marketing skills among others, as its CEO.
He has helped the company to become more business-oriented. It has a file-sharing (NAS) Drobo and an iSCSI SAN (block access) product, which have both been refreshed in the recent announcement. Now we have the 12-bay product and a new Drobo Dashboard interface, which runs on a connected host server and shows the status, health and capacity take-up of a set of Drobos.
The 12-bay is a 3U rackmount unit and there is talk of a dual controller unit coming, also of a 2.5-inch drive version which would have more drive spindles, and we understand that 4TB drives are supported with testing under way or about to start.
The SSDs for the 12-slot box will be third-party ones qualified by Data Robotics, not supplied by Data Robotics. Expect mainstream SAS/SATA 3.5-inch SSDs to be on the list or, maybe, 2.5-inch ones in 3.5-inch carriers.
How well has Data Robotics done? There are some 150,000 Drobo customers with fewer than 200,000 units sold.
er, yes you can...
yes you can grow raid arrays in a PC. In Linux you can anyway, using mdadm. I've done so, so I know it works. :-) My old 500GB/disk raid5 array was grown from 4 to 7 drives one at a time until i decided to replace it with larger drives (hence ending up with more 500GB drives than I have bays to put them in). Now, when I upgraded to larger drives I could have swapped them in the larger drives one at a time and re-shaped accordingly on the fly. (I didn't as I had enough external drive space to back up the array's contents and restore it to the new array, which was quicker and simpler.)
It is a very manual, hands-on (and thus failure-prone) process, especially if the drive bays aren't hot-swappable, but it *is* possible.
I wanted the drobo or something like it (there seems to be little like it) because i was *bored* of doing it the manual way, frankly. But I'm not so bored of it as to spend that much.
I have been told that the 2008 numbers I guessed at were about 1/2 of what Data Robotics achieved in that calendar year. That's because Jillian Mansolf did an amazing job in the first full year of shipments. Also Data Robotics shipped for two and a bit quarters in 2007, from June onwards, so there was about half a year's revenue in that year too,
Adjusting my numbers (assuming a $500 ASP) along these lines and guesstimating we get:-
2007 - $5m
2008 - $10m
2009 - $25m
2010 - $47.5m
TOTAL - $87.5m
Halve the numbers for a $250 ASP.
That's probably a more realistic picture.
The Drobo S is a crazy price! Almost double the price of the original Drobo for what? eSata, 1 more bay, and the option to enable double-failure protection (which then uses up that extra bay...).
It makes the US$349 pricing on the original look very reasonable.
As for rolling your own using a PC chassis with lots of drive bays ... that's fine except when you run out of capacity. With standard RAID software you'll either have to add a new RAID array (yes, even if you use ZFS you can't just add to an existing RAID set), or you'll have to replace all the existing drives at once which is also going to require a 2nd RAID array at least temporarily while you copy the data.
It's the ability to expand the storage literally by pulling out one drive and pushing a new one in that makes the Drobo attractive. I've currently got 3 x 1.5 TB drives in mine and it's about 70% full. By the time I need more space I'm hoping that 3 TB drives will be the cheapest per byte (the 2's are at the moment).