Friday, June 03, 2011

Build Your Own Private Cloud Storage

Many small and medium businesses are doing at least some storage in the public cloud, especially with disaster recovery in mind. But you still need at least some storage locally. You can go with a SAN (Storage Attached Network) that is expensive and complicated or you can consider something much easier and simpler.

Don't worry about individual drive failures when you have a Drobo.That something is a Drobo storage system. Drobo, which sounds like a good name for a robot, is a deceptively advanced hard disk storage solution that uses standard 3.5” SATA disk drives of pretty much any capacity. The deceptive part is that this appears to be just some simple multi-bay drive case. You can plug in more drives at any time. You can pull drives out at any time. You can even pull out a 1 TB drive and replace it with a 2 TB drive at any time.

Sounds convenient, but what kind of administrative nightmare lies behind swapping all those drives in and out. None at all. It’s truly plug and play... or I should say plug and store. You don’t have to log into any admin panel and start typing arcane command lines to make things work. All of that is automated and invisible to you, the user.

You are, indeed, building your own private storage cloud and it stays on your premises. There’s no worry about having sufficient bandwidth to access data in real-time because this unit sits on a desk or mounts in a rack and connects to your local network.

You are no doubt familiar with RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Drives), a technique of interconnecting multiple hard drives so that the failure of one drive will not cause you to lose data. Drobo’s system goes even farther. They call it BeyondRAID. The difference is that with Drobo you can use drives of any size and they don’t have to be the same. Grab half a dozen SATA drives at random and plug them into the Drobo box. The system automatically sets them up for redundant storage with the combined capacity being your storage pool. It’s not a matter of the smallest disk defining the storage pool or virtual hot spare.

You can see how this is similar to the cloud philosophy in that you don’t need to be concerned about the mechanics of how to get all those disparate disk drives to work in harmony. That’s built into the operating system. If you start to run out of room, just plug another drive into an empty bay. Oh, your bays are all full? OK. Just yank out the smallest drive and replace it with a larger one. The system will automatically accommodate the drive change, give you the extra capacity and not lose any information in the process.

You can even upgrade the drive system at will. Move up from a 9 bay system to a 12 bay system for up to 24 TB of local storage. Pull your drive out of the old case and plug them into the new one. Oh, oh. You forgot which drive was in which slot? No problem. Just plug them into any open slot, include any new ones wherever there is room and you are good to go. The status lights will all light green when the system has sorted things out and is ready to use.

Does this sound a bit too simple to be true? Well, you’ll just have to read the material and watch the demonstration videos to see for yourself. Drobo units start at just 4 bays for small office use (with however many drives you care to plug in) and go up from there.

Note: Photo of open hard disk drive courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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