Drobo Tunes Up SMB Array With Automated Data-Aware Tiering

Drobo, better known as a developer of user-friendly entry-level storage appliances, is stepping up its SMB storage market game with enhancements to its flagship array.

Drobo Thursday unveiled Automated Data-Aware Tiering technology for the Drobo B1200i storage system, making it the first SMB array to allow instant auto-tiering by adding solid state drives, said Jim Sherhart, senior director of marketing at the San Jose, Calif.-based company. The Drobo B1200i made its debut in the fall.

"This allows us to take a couple of SSDs, add them to the existing array, and immediately double or triple performance," Sherhart said.

[Related: Automated Tiered Storage Gaining Traction Through Cost Savings, Performance ]

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Automated tiered storage, or dynamic tiering, is the ability of a storage device to automatically migrate data from one type of media to another based on how "hot," or frequently accessed, the data is and the cost of the different media.

The Drobo B1200i includes what Sherhart called "zero configuration."

"You walk up, you insert some solid state drives," he said. "When you pop them in, the system automatically recognizes the SSDs, adds them to the storage pool, and starts putting the right data on them."

Sherhart contrasted this to higher-end arrays with auto-tiering where it might take a week of professional services to deploy the array and set up the auto-tiering before the process becomes automated. "Most of the people buying that technology are paying over $50,000," he said. "That's not an SMB product."

Drobo CEO Tom Buiocchi called the ease of use of the Drobo B1200i's auto-tiering a big differentiator. "Fully automated tiering for the others means you have a week of professional services to implement it," Buiocchi said. "Fully automated tiering for us means you pop in a couple of SSDs and go get a cup of coffee."

Sherhart said the Drobo B1200i also immediately determines which data goes on the SSDs and which stays on spinning disk by looking at how often it is accessed. "It looks at the I/Os and determines what their data goes to," he said. "It can immediately see if its active or inactive data."

NEXT: Drobo On Margins, Deal Registration

The new storage appliance is priced for the SMB market, Drobo's Sherhart said. A unit with 18 TB of spinning disk storage and three 100-GB SSDs is list-priced at less than $18,000. For SMBs looking to start out at a lower cost level, a configuration without the SSDs lists for less than $10,000 but gives the option of adding SSDs at a later date, he said.

For solution providers, Drobo is offering what Sherhart called an "aggressive" deal registration program that offers up to 35 points of margin for partners who have received all the necessary training and who registered the deal.

"Prior to this, our top-of-line product, fully stuffed with drives, sold for $7,000 to $8,000," he said. "VARs might think they couldn't make a lot of money selling our products. Now we're talking about a $20,000 box with neat capabilities where VARs can make some pretty good margins."

Customers who previously installed the Drobo 1200i can download a firmware update free of charge, which allows those units to offer both auto-tiering and SSD capabilities, Sherhart said.

"With the firmware update, customers can start using SSDs right away," he said. "And even if they don't add SSDs, they get immediate performance benefits from auto-tiering."

Drobo uses SSDs from OCZ in its B1200i. Sherhart said customers and solution providers can update new and existing models with OCZ SSDs acquired from their preferred sources.

Sherhart said the updated Drobo B1200i marks its latest move away from a prosumer and professional user focus to a focus on the SMB market.

The company only two years ago entered the business part of the storage market, but by last year had just more than 50 percent of its revenue coming from business-oriented products such as the B1200i and the B800i, he said. "However, our product mix is still heavily skewed towards smaller products," he said.

Drobo expects SSDs and auto-tiering to be a part of all new products going forward, Sherhart said.