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Offline greatbob6

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Drobo Alternative
« on: April 03, 2011, 06:38:08 pm »
I'm looking for a NAS device for my company, and I figure there are a lot of IT related guys here that might have some good advice.  I've looked into the Drobo units and I love the ease-of-use of them but I'm a little concerned about the reliability after reading some pretty bad reviews online.

Is there anything else out there that offers the same sort of ease of use, particularly in regards to online expansion, but that is more reliable?  Price range would probably be around the Drobo range too...under $2000 to start off at least.

Offline rcfa

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Re: Drobo Alternative
« Reply #1 on: April 04, 2011, 07:14:56 am »
The drobo is pretty unique in the way it does the RAID-type functionality at the block level, and then virtualizes the volumes on top of a pool of storage blocks, with things like thin provisioning, etc. similar what can be done with ZFS storage pools and a bunch of drives, except the way drobo does it doesn't require the use of a specific file system. That's what allows for the easy expansion. All the other RAID-ish systems out there I know of work at a disk level, so if you want to upgrade capacity you often have no choice but to reformat the array, and where do you shove the data in the mean time?

It's basically for that reason why I got a drobo. Once a PSU failed on me, but the data was safe: moved the drives to the replacement unit, and that was that.

I wish they were more hardcore on some other levels, too: like e.g. what good is a RAID if the controller doesn't use ECC RAM? drobo didn't want to answer the question if they do or don't use ECC RAM, but if I had to guess, they likely don't otherwise they'd brag about it.

So there are clearly things that could be done better: better diagnostics (right now, you just have to trust they are doing the right thing), ECC RAM, etc.
Still, for the money and features, there's rather little competition out there right now.

Offline rhy7s

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Re: Drobo Alternative
« Reply #2 on: April 04, 2011, 07:41:22 am »
There's Nexenta Stor

Offline Cry Havok

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Re: Drobo Alternative
« Reply #3 on: April 04, 2011, 11:52:35 am »
I've had nothing but great experience with the ReadyNAS range and it too allows for RAID expansion as you add disks or replace them (all) with larger ones.. I've heard good things about Thecus and Synology, though haven't used them.
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Offline p0ddie

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Re: Drobo Alternative
« Reply #4 on: April 05, 2011, 02:58:01 am »
considering pfsense is based on FreeBSD, I wonder why no one has mentioned FreeNAS yet. It is quite capable and with proper hardware very fast.

Other than that, if you just want a small NAS, then yes, I would also recommend the Netgear ReadyNAS as they are easy to use, reliable and have a great community (this is quite important for me) with the devs lurking the forums quite frequently.

If you want to go pro but still be on the cheap side (e.g. no proprietary enterprise-level hardware), check out Open-E.com. They rely on standard pc hardware, too, but have a nice amount of professional features.

Offline rcfa

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Re: Drobo Alternative
« Reply #5 on: April 05, 2011, 05:52:09 am »
I've had nothing but great experience with the ReadyNAS range and it too allows for RAID expansion as you add disks or replace them (all) with larger ones.. I've heard good things about Thecus and Synology, though haven't used them.

The issue is, if there is no thin provisioning, yes, you can increase the storage capacity, but you'll have potential issues with resizing the file system. On the drobo, except for TimeMachine partitions that I want to restrict from growing past a certain point, all file systems are provisioned to be 16TB, even though I have only a fraction of that storage available.
Now I can add bigger drives at infinitum, until the total physical capacity of the drobo doesn't exceed 8x16TB, I'll never have to worry again about partition sizes, copying data while upgrading the storage capacity, etc.

These other systems you mention work like regular RAID arrays, they don't virtualize the storage.

Offline rcfa

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Re: Drobo Alternative
« Reply #6 on: April 05, 2011, 05:58:17 am »
There's Nexenta Stor

That's cool stuff. However, if you need iSCSI not as a storage back-end, but as a way that storage is provided to your machine, then from what I can tell this won't qualify.

The beauty of the drobo is that to my Mac it looks like an internal drive, because it's hooked up over iSCSI as a "regular" block device with 8 volumes of up to 16TB each (with thin provisioning). The RAID-like redundancy is completely transparent to the OS, and that without using some network file system protocol.

Offline Bai Shen

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Re: Drobo Alternative
« Reply #7 on: April 05, 2011, 09:09:53 am »
I have a ReadyNAS and a Drobo.  I use them for different tasks.  The ReadyNAS is nice, but mine seems to have a memory leak.  I have to reboot it every month or so.  Otherwise it starts giving me weird errors.  I've not tried increasing the disk size(I currently have 4 750s), but I did start with one disk and then add more later.  That worked fine.

Offline p0ddie

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Re: Drobo Alternative
« Reply #8 on: April 05, 2011, 03:20:44 pm »
oh yeah, considering thin provisioning and iscsi support I like the Thecus devices. Thecus buys them as OEM just like my main reseller NASdeluxe, I have installed quite a few of the 2u 8 bay devices. They are ok performance-wise (about 90-100MB/s with sata drives and raid 6) and reliable. Hot swapping a failed drive worked fine. they also offer zfs storage pools, but you better not use that in conjunction with AFP on a mac, it won't work ;-)

Offline Cry Havok

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Re: Drobo Alternative
« Reply #9 on: April 05, 2011, 03:53:20 pm »
The issue is, if there is no thin provisioning, yes, you can increase the storage capacity, but you'll have potential issues with resizing the file system.
Not with the ReadyNAS - expanding is as simple as rebooting and waiting for the expansion to complete. I've done it a few times and I can tell you from experience that it just works. I'd suggest you go and read their Wiki and forums ;)

These other systems you mention work like regular RAID arrays, they don't virtualize the storage.
Which doesn't mean you can't expand the storage.
If you're planning on PMing me to ask me to look at a thread, or for individual support, don't.

Offline rcfa

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Re: Drobo Alternative
« Reply #10 on: April 05, 2011, 06:47:09 pm »
The issue is, if there is no thin provisioning, yes, you can increase the storage capacity, but you'll have potential issues with resizing the file system.
Not with the ReadyNAS - expanding is as simple as rebooting and waiting for the expansion to complete. I've done it a few times and I can tell you from experience that it just works. I'd suggest you go and read their Wiki and forums ;)

These other systems you mention work like regular RAID arrays, they don't virtualize the storage.
Which doesn't mean you can't expand the storage.

We're talking about two different things. You hook up a NAS, meaning your computer accesses these things through AFP, NFS or SMB.
The drobo is hooked up to my Mac with iSCSI, i.e. it looks to my Mac like an internal drive, i.e. it's is block-accessed, not through file sharing.
Messing with partition and file system sizes on a live file system is risky, even though some tools allow that.
The drobo virtualizes the block storage, so to my Mac it looks like I hooked up 8x16TB disk drives through FW, USB or iSCSI.
No AFP, NFS, or SMB involved. This is faster, has lower overhead, and allows for full MacOSX/Unix file system semantics.

Also, on the drobo you can go from RAID-5 to RAID-6 equivalent, AND BACK. You can also SHRINK storage, all while things are running.

Not saying the other systems aren't good and can fullfill a useful job, but there are differences in what the various systems can do.
The drobo is by far the most flexible if you're looking for iSCSI/direct attached drives.
If all you do is access things as a file server, rather than use it to provide disk space to a file server, then that extra flexibility probably won't matter much.

Offline greatbob6

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Re: Drobo Alternative
« Reply #11 on: April 06, 2011, 08:54:54 pm »
I love the features of the Drobo, I think the simplicity can't be beat.  My issue with Drobo only has to do with potential reliability issues, a lot of the reviews I've seen on the net have not been very pleasent to read.  How long have you had yours?

Offline rcfa

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Re: Drobo Alternative
« Reply #12 on: April 07, 2011, 01:44:32 am »
I love the features of the Drobo, I think the simplicity can't be beat.  My issue with Drobo only has to do with potential reliability issues, a lot of the reviews I've seen on the net have not been very pleasent to read.  How long have you had yours?

About a year. As I said, under warranty, the PSU failed. But the data was safe, so the unit was replaced, drives moved, and all was hunky-dory.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not thrilled about an PSU failure within the first year of operation, but I'm also aware of the RhoS transition issues caused for many electronics.

Of course, data integrity ranks higher than hardware reliability, because once the data collection reaches a certain size, backing up is nearly impossible, unless one has a HUGE budget. So trying to back-up an 8-drive droboPro with dual-reduncancy (RAID-6-ish) would require pretty much double the budget requirements...
So from that perspective what I don't like is the lack of ECC RAM, because the one thing that in the past caused data loss on a RAID setup, aside from accidentally deleting data, was defective cache RAM. RAID-[56] won't protect against corrupted disk buffers being written to the drives, if there's no way of parity checking on the RAM that holds the disk buffers.

So for data integrity, it's the lack of ECC RAM that concerns me. The dead PSU was one of these things that's annoying, but as long as the data didn't suffer, it's bearable.
From the operating functionality, though, it's the best. So it's a question of what bullet you want to bite ;)

I wish there had not been the legal controversy around ZFS. If Mac OS X had adopted/supported ZFS, then that would have solved just about all of my demands. I bought the drobo after Apple dropped development of ZFS for Mac OS X due to legal/patent disputes over ZFS.

But for many reasons, I need something that to the OS is a locally attached storage device, rather than a network file server. So typical NAS devices just don't cut it, and other iSCSI devices don't allow for thin provisioning and OS-transparent capacity upgrades. That's what really sold me on the drobo.

Other stuff, in particularly Thecus and QNap were high on my list of competing products, but in the end I settled for a droboPro for reasons of cost and operational simplicity, even though I'm quite vocal about the reservations I have in regards to not using ECC RAM and less than ideal transparency of systems diagnostics.