I have been a supporter of RAID for the longest time; after all it would be crazy not to like something that brings efficiency and protection to the data storage process. RAID has certainly provided both, but that was then and this is now, and it is time for RAID to step down and let a new storage king be crowned. Without turning this into a huge anti-RAID rant, it is only fair that I highlight perhaps a handful of the reasons why the technology has had its day before turning my attention to that which could replace it.
Most importantly there is the small matter of large drives, in particular the fact that RAID is not flexible enough to allow the user to drop in additional drives of any capacity. By determining that all drives need to be the same size my choice to expand the storage on offer cheaply is reduced. I want to be able to just drop in a huge drive and use all the capacity it offers, without the RAID group saying I can only use a percentage of that capacity and no more. I don’t want to be forced into replacing all the drives with the new bigger capacity ones at a much greater overall cost to me. And talking of inflexibility, I would rather not have to make my mind up in advance as to what type of RAID solution is best for me and then have no choice but to stick with regardless. What I would like is for my storage system to determine for me which is the most suitable configuration to provide me with protected data and acceptable performance.
Anyone who has ever actually had to wait for a RAID system to rebuild after adding a drive, anyone who has ever had to migrate data twice just to change RAID configuration, anyone who has ever rolled their sleeves up and got down and dirty with RAID will be nodding in agreement by this point.
The trouble is there is nothing to replace RAID, nothing that does the job better, at least there wasn’t. In fact there still isn’t, but Data Robotics Inc will change all that as from the 1st June with the launch of the Drobo. This data robot device implements an entirely new approach to mass storage technology that answers all the problems of RAID I have just mentioned, specifically:
Drobo can combine up to four 3.5” SATA drives into a single pool of protected storage, and it’s up to you when you add to the storage pool, and what capacity drives you add. You can start with two small drives, add a couple of bigger ones, then go back and upgrade your smaller drives to match or surpass those. The keyword here is flexibility, true flexibility of a kind just not possible with a RAID system. This is possible because Drobo upgrades its capacity on the fly, it takes care of the data storage business while you take care of your business, just the way technology should be. Drobo promises no downtime, data migration or long waits to rebuild before being able to access the new capacity. What’s more it promises true plug and play mass storage as well, no software, no RAID level configurations, no management process, just a connection to your PC or Mac and leave it to work out what is best for you and your data.
Data Robotics are flying with the slogan ‘fully automated storage you don't have to manage’ which sounds about right it has to be said, a dream come true no less.
Well, possibly, maybe, for some.
For a start this is no large enterprise IT admin storage wet dream. Drobo is aimed specifically at the smaller end of the market, the savvy consumer with ever increasing media storage requirements looking for security and simplicity, through to the small business end of the corporate spectrum requiring the same. This makes good enough sense as the larger corporate will already have a huge investment in its RAID environment, including the skilled staff to manage it. It is precisely the SoHo user that requires something intelligent enough to handle data management, redundancy and corruption repair issues who will benefit from the Drobo. And it won’t cost a small fortune either, as I am led to understand that the Drobo enclosure itself will cost around $699, to which you will obviously have to add your hard drive costs.
"Drobo is the world's first storage robot, providing fully automated, infinitely expandable storage that safeguards against drive failure and data corruption” Data Robotics tells me. And like all good robots it has plenty of flashing LEDs so science fiction fans will not be disappointed. Green ones indicate a drive is OK, yellow ones that it is running out of space and red ones show a disk failure. There are other lights, but I have yet to work out what they do.
What I have worked out is that this really could be the start of a data storage revolution, a small revolution granted and perhaps my headline of ‘RAID is dead’ will prove to be somewhat premature. However, there is no doubting that RAID is terminally ill, and technology such as the Drobo is waiting with nails for the coffin…