Over the last (almost) decade of working at the same company I have been amazed by the ever growing need for storage solutions. We have moved over time from a mixed Windows 95/98/ME environment to a homogeneous Windows 7 installation base. Where we were long ago running Office 97 we are now running Office 2010. During this time the file sizes produced by these software packages has increased dramatically. We are storing images of entire hard drive installations now where we used to rebuild from disc (cd-rom and floppies). Throw in redundant copies of critical information, along with the fact that no one ever deletes anything, and our storage requirements were growing at an alarming rate. Eventually I needed to make a change.
When I decided that it was time to take action I didn’t have any single device that could hold all of our short and long term storage needs. I also didn’t have any portable devices that could move this data around without breaking it up into small pieces first. This was becoming quite a problem. I needed to find a solid network storage device that was robust, redundant, easy to implement and relatively affordable.
One of the barriers to working in a smaller shop is always budget. There was a long list of storage devices that we simply couldn’t afford. Since I had already been using two of the original Drobo (Data Robotics) devices I decided to see what higher end options were available. I was initially impressed by the DroboElite. This device offered many of the features that we were looking for in a storage device. It was compatible with our virtual servers as well as offering a great deal of network storage. With the dual NIC (network interface card) configuration I could easily dual purpose the unit. I decided to pull the trigger. Once the new device arrived I quickly took it out of the box and started working with it. I made a few bad assumptions during the initial setup due to my previous experience with the original Drobo devices. The DroboElite is almost nothing like its predecessors. Here are a few key lessons learned:
- You have to connect the DroboElite directly to your computer using the USB cable for the initial setup.
- Once you have the desired volumes set up you can then access it via the Drobo Dashboard over the local area network.
- You cannot format the volumes while locally connected. You have to format the volumes over the network after the initial setup is complete.
- This device doesn’t work in Linux. Period full stop. I lost a day and half trying to get it to work. You have been warned.
- The only really good way to set up these larger volumes is to format them in NTFS. EXT3/4 won’t work. You have been warned (again).
- Only ONE computer on your network can access each volume at one time. This one took me some time to work out.
- You really should enable a CHAP password on any volume exposed to your local area network. One computer can lock out the volume so that no one else can access it. You might not know which computer that is. You might spend days trying to figure out how to regain access to your data before you finally think to enable a CHAP password. You have been warned (one last time).
At this point I have initialized the Drobo, installed all eight hard drives (2 TB, 7200 RPM) and moved it to the local area network (LAN). The primary network interface card (NIC) has been configured with a static IP address and is accessible from all the devices on my network.
Now we need to set up the individual volumes:
We are sharing this storage device between our regular LAN and a virtual storage network. Before this device arrived I was running virtual machines locally on their physical hosts. This was risky since a hardware failure could potentially take down multiple virtual servers. With the arrival of the new Drobo I will finally be able to run the virtual machines on the storage device. If a physical host goes down I can quickly recover by moving the virtual machine to another physical host and starting it up again. The public facing recovery time shrinks from hours to minutes.
In the example above I have set up an 8 GB NTFS volume. This will be shared on the LAN for storage. The 2 GB volumes will be used on a separate storage network as shared storage for the physical virtual servers. All of the virtual machines will be migrated to the storage network ranked by importance.
Now that the volumes are set up it’s time to start copying data over to the Drobo!
One of the major differences between the original Drobo and the DroboElite is that only one computer can access a volume at a time. To work around this limitation I mounted the volume on our file server and used the domain permissions to control access.
Setting Up The Storage Network For Virtual Machines
To segment the virtual machine traffic from our normal LAN traffic I set up a second switch to manage the storage network. All of the physical host servers have at least dual NICs. One NIC from each server goes to the storage switch. The storage network runs over iSCSI instead of the standard TCP/IP protocol. This service is disabled by default in the physical host. To enable iSCSI click on Configuration – Storage Adapters.
Once iSCSI has been enabled you can scan the network for your iSCSI device.
Click on the Storage link to format the volumes with vmfs3.
Click on the Networking link to set up the network. In the following example we are running one physical network attached to our LAN and a second attached to our storage network.
I am surprised at how many virtual machines can be run over the single gigabit ethernet connection without any apparent loss of speed. I haven’t hit a limit yet where performance is materially impacted. All in all this device is very impressive. You can really push the capabilities of this storage device on a rather tight budget. Kudos to Data Robotics for producing such a robust (and affordable) network storage device! Very impressive!