Can Drobo cop SMB storage market with ultra-simple B1200i?

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Drobo’s prosumer pedigree provides the clue as to why its new B1200i (iSCSI) storage box is the lowest cost business storage SAN appliance and has ultra-simple configuring and operation.

Consumers demand devices with simple, automated operation. So when Drobo (formerly Data Robotics) started to sell its storage boxes to SMBs as well as to professional consumers (prosumers) it already had a built-in simplicity ethos. Drobo has now extended this through its automated data-aware tiering technology.

The B1200i is a 3U rackmount box housing up to 12 standard SSD, SAS or SATA drives in any mix (so a theoretical maximum of 36TB). But it’s the automation bit that SMBs should like – especially that it automatically optimises performance across these drives of mixed speeds, all the time in real-time, regardless of the application workload mix.

This new feature complements other automation already found in its earlier B800i and B800fs boxes. Its ‘BeyondRAID’ automated RAID management maintains operation if two drives fail, supports this mix of drive speeds and manufacturers, and allows drive hot-swapping and reordering to facilitate fast upgrades. The automated thin provisioning includes reclamation of ‘deleted’ storage; it is aware of whole disk array utilisation and can permit more capacity to be configured than current available.

The B1200i entry-level price is around $10,000, or below $20,000 with SSDs, probably less than a quarter of similar-sized storage from competitors. So Drobo hopes SMBs will jump at the ultra-low CAPEX and spot a potentially low OPEX as no administrator is needed to repeatedly configure, tune, test then adjust settings to create and maintain optimum performance.

Drobo’s market is now 50-50 SMB/prosumer. It has over 25,000 users increasing by 2,500 per quarter. So it knows the needs of this specific market – low CAPEX and OPEX, with no waste through over-configuring, minimised breakdown risk and plug-and-go operation. Its resellers should have an easy sales story and are probably expecting a low level of ongoing support.

The B1200i is absolutely not designed for enterprises (except perhaps for departmental storage), but who can touch it in its space? The likes of EMC, Dell and HP may sneer at a “ridiculously low” price-tag and argue that “you get what you pay for”; but I doubt that this will deter many SMBs anxious for big savings.

Drobo’s immediate challenges are probably for the B1200i to perform to its promised spec, without serious teething troubles, and to meet demand through a new production line. I will watch market take-up and feedback with interest.