Drobo Rolls Out Less 'Cute,' More Business-Focused SMB Storage Appliances

Data Robotics, manufacturers of the Drobo-line of SOHO storage appliances, expanded its line this week with the addition of new models targeting SMB customers with virtualized IT environments, and is supporting it with a new expanded channel program.

The new Drobo SMB storage appliances come in completely new form factors from the company's original product lines in part to emphasize the fact that they are focused on a different customer set, said Kevin Epstein, vice president of product marketing for the Santa Clara, Calif.-based vendor.

"Feedback from our customers was that our original box was too cute," Epstein said. "So we changed. We're building this from the ground-up for SMBs."

That is not to say Drobo is taking out all the "cute," Epstein said.

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"We're putting the high-end concept of RAID for businesses into a little, cute, toaster-sized box that's affordable and doesn't look like RAID," he said. "Drobo is what would have happened if the designers of the iPhone had invented RAID."

Drobo this week unveiled three new SMB storage appliances, all of which are certified for VMware and Citrix virtualized environments.

The model B800fs with eight drive bays connects to an Ethernet network over dual redundant Gbit cables to provide up to 16 TBs of raw capacity for file sharing between multiple users.

The eight-drive model B800i can be the center of an iSCSI SAN with room for up to 24 TBs of raw capacity.

The third, the 12-bay model B1200i is similar to the B800i, but has up to 36 TBs of raw capacity and includes redundant, hot-swappable components.

The 12-bay appliances also include two other sophisticated features, Epstein said.

The first is automated thin provisioning, which he said is a very unusual feature to be included with SMB storage. With automated thin provisioning, customers can tell a capacity-hungry application like Microsoft Exchange that it has, for example, 20 TBs of storage available to use while really giving it only 4 Lbs. The appliance warns users and solution providers that the physical capacity is being reached with a series of green lights on the front panel, giving them time to add more hard drives as needed, he said.

The second is automated application-aware storage tiering, Epstein said. The appliance can have a mixture of SSDs and SATA drives, and the Drobo software automatically ensures that data is allocated to the right type of storage medium not just based on the application but on a block-by-block basis depending the data. "So the CEO who checks e-mail on his Blackberry every 30 minutes will have his e-mails in faster storage," he said.

"We decided we are going all-out with the Drobo," he said. "We want to add it all in. Why? Because we can. You can be sophisticated and affordable at the same time."

Next: New Business Premier Channel Program

The two 8-bay Drobo SMB storage appliances are currently available, and the 12-bay version is expected to ship next quarter, Epstein said. Prices without any storage capacity range from $2,199 to $9,999. They are available through solution providers, or customers can buy them direct from Drobo at list price, he said.

With the new SMB storage appliances, Drobo is also introducing a new business premier channel program.

The program is a comp-negative one in which a Drobo sales rep makes less in commission by taking a sale direct, Epstein said. "We set it up so our reps are compensated to work with partners," he said.

The program also includes deal registration, lead generation, and market development funds, he said.

Drobo will work hand-in-hand with new partners to help make them successful, said Ezra Hookano, vice president of business product sales for the vendor.

"We will pass partners qualified leads, including leads for customers will to pay up-front for a 30-day trial," Hookano said. "Once we are comfortable with a partner's ability to sell, we will work with them on demand-generation programs."