Tag Archives: storage

Cloud storage sums: how does the cost compare to backing up to your own drives?

Google now offers Cloud Storage Nearline (CSN) at $0.01 per GB per month.

Let’s say you have 1TB of data to store. That will cost $10 per month to store. Getting the data there is free if you have unlimited broadband, but getting it all back out (in the event of a disaster) costs $0.12 per GB ie $120.

A 1TB external drive is around £45 or $58 (quick prices from Amazon for USB 3.0 drives). CSN is not an alternative to local storage, but a backup; you will still have something like network attached storage preferably with RAID resilience to actually use the data day to day. The 1TB external drive would be your additional and preferably off-site backup. For the $120 per annum that CSN will cost you can buy two or three of these.

The advantage of the CSN solution is that it is off-site without the hassle of managing off-site drives and probably more secure (cloud hack risks vs chances of leaving a backup drive in a bus or taxi, or having it nabbed from a car, say). Your 1TB drive could go clunk, whereas Google will manage resilience.

If you consider the possibilities for automation, a cloud-based backup is more amenable to this, unless you have the luxury of a connection to some other office or datacentre.

Still, even at these low prices you are paying a premium versus a DIY solution. And let’s not forget performance; anyone still on ADSL or other asymmetric connections will struggle with large uploads (typically 1-2 Mb/s) while USB 3.0 is pretty fast (typically up to 100 Mb/s though theoretically it could be much faster). If you have the misfortune to have data that changes frequently – and a difficult case is the VHDs (Virtual Hard Drives) that back Virtual Machines – then cloud backup becomes difficult.

Review: Synology DS415+ Network Attached Storage

Synology’s DS415+ is a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device aimed at small businesses or demanding home users. I have been running this on my own network for the last 6 weeks or so.

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First, a note about Synology’s product range. Let us say you want a NAS with 4 drive bays. Here are the choices, with current bare NAS prices from Amazon.co.uk:

  • DS414j £252.63: Budget offering, 512MB RAM, 1.2 GHz  dual core ARM CPU, 1 USB 2.0, 1 USB 3.0, 1 1GB Ethernet port. 90W power supply, 32.64W power consumption.
  • DS414 Slim £237.87: Smaller case designed for 2.5″ drives. All the other units here support 3.5″ drives. Given that you can normally tuck your NAS away in a corner, there is limited value in restricting yourself to these smaller drives, but there is also an energy as well as space saving. 512MB RAM, 1.2GHz single core ARM CPU, 2 USB 3.0 ports, 2 1Gb Ethernet ports. 30W power supply, 15.48W power consumption.
  • DS414 £332.83: Core product. 1GB RAM, 1.33 GHz dual core ARM CPU, 1 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0, 2 1Gb Ethernet ports, 90W power supply, 28.42W power consumption.
  • DS415 Play £379.99: Home oriented. Benefits from hardware video transcoding. 1GB RAM, 1.6GHz dual core Intel Atom CPU, 3 USB 2.0 ports, 2 USB 3.0 ports, 1 1Gb Ethernet port, 90W power supply, 27.33W power consumption.
  • DS415+ £460.74: Business oriented. 2GB RAM, 2.4GHz quad core Intel Atom CPU, 1 USB 2.0 port, 2 USB 3.0 ports, 1 eSATA port, 2 1Gb Ethernet ports, 100W power supply, 32.64W power consumption.

You can get a more detailed comparison of these four models in this table. Incidentally, I am guessing that in the Synology numbering scheme, the first digit represents the number of drive bays, and the second two digits the year of release.

The 415 models are the latest releases then, and the only ones to use Intel CPUs. The extra cost of the 415+ buys you double the amount of RAM, a quad core CPU, and an eSATA port.

The software is mostly the same on all the devices, Synology’s Diskstation Manager (DSM), currently at version 5.1. It looks as if some limits are lifted with the 415+, for example there is support for 256 iSCSI LUNs on the 415+, versus 10 on the 415 Play. The 415+ also has specifica support for VMWare VAAI (vStorage API for Array Integration) and Windows Server ODX (Offloaded Data Transfer); this enables some storage tasks to be offloaded to the storage system for better performance on the virtualization host.

Why buy a unit like this when you could simply get a server with plenty of drive bays, or with hardware RAID, and install Linux or Windows Storage Server? The two reasons are first, simplicity of operation, and second, low power consumption.

The distinction is not as sharp as it first appears, since a Synology device like this is in fact a server. If you require maximum flexibility and do not care about energy use, a generic server is probably better. If you require only simple network attached storage, such as a large shared folder on the network, a unit like the 415+ is overkill; just get a DS414j or some other brand. On the other hand, if you expect to install and use several apps, the extra for a DS415+ buys you a substantially more capable server.

Another way of looking at this is that the processing power in the DS415+, while still modest compared to a modern desktop PC, is sufficient for some real work, such as running web applications or even a media server with software transcoding.

Setup

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Unpack the box, and you find the NAS unit, power supply and a couple of ethernet cables. Unclip the front cover and you can see the four drive bays, with caddies which can easily be removed for drive installation.

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The drive caddies are screwless for 3.5″ drives; just remove the side panels, insert the drive, and replace the side panels to secure.

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You can also install 2.5″ drives with four screws through holes in the caddy base.

At the rear of the unit, there are dual fans, two Ethernet ports, 2 USB 3.0 ports, eSata port, and the power connector.

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I fitted four 3TB Western Digital Red drives – currently £89.36 on Amazon – attached the device to the network and powered up. You can than access the NAS management UI with any web browser. Normally, entering diskstation:5000 will find it. The initial setup downloads and installs the latest version of DSM, and offers an instant configuration which is a single large network folder backed by Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR).

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I accepted this just to try it, and then blew it away in favour of a more flexible configuration.

Diskstation Manager

Synology DSM is a version of Linux. You can access the OS via SSH, or use the browser-based GUI. The GUI is rather well done, and presents a desktop-like environment with a windowing system.

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The button at top right open a kind of Start menu:

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Applications are installed and removed through the Package Center:

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Generally, you should use only the Package Center to manage applications, though terminal access can be useful for troubleshooting, cleanup, or tweaking settings if you know what you are doing.

Since packages are only available from Synology, you are limited to those applications which are supported, unless you do a manual install:

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Even a manual install has to be in the Synology package format (an archive with appropriate metadata). Some packages, such as the Plex media server, are available for download as manual installs, though may need tweaking to install correctly.

Third party developers can create packages, free or paid, and submit them to Synology for approval.

If an application is updated, it can take a while before the Synology package is updated. This could be a problem if, for example, a critical security bug is found in an application running on a Synology device exposed to the internet. There are not a huge number of packages available. I counted 63 in the DS415+ Package Center. However, this does include everything you need for a basic business server, including a mail server, DNS Server, LDAP Directory Server, Drupal CMS, SugarCRM, web server with PHP and MySQL, Tomcat application server, and more.

On the multimedia side, there are applications for serving audio and video, a DLNA media server, and Logitech Media Server (also known as Squeezebox Server).

There are several backup applications, including one for Amazon’s Glacier service (low-cost cloud storage).

Storage management

The primary role of a Synology device is for storage of course, and this is configured through the Storage Manager. Configuration begins with Disk Groups, which represent one or more physical drives in a RAID configuration.

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There are several supported RAID configurations:

SHR: Synology Hybrid RAID with 1- or 2- disk fault tolerance. You need at least 4 drives for 2-disk tolerance.

RAID 0: disk striping, no fault tolerance

RAID 1: drive mirroring

RAID 5: 1-disk fault tolerance

RAID 6: 2-disk fault tolerance

RAID 10: RAID 0 across mirrored drives, 1-disk fault tolerance with high performance.

What is SHR? There is an explanation here. The high-level story is that SHR is more efficient with drives of varying capacity, and more flexible when adding new drives. It is not proprietary and apparently data can be recovered if necessary by mounting SHR drives in a Linux PC (provided no more than one drive has failed).

You set the RAID level when you create a disk group. Once you have a disk group, you can create volumes or iSCSI targets on that group.

I was interested in trying iSCSI. I have a desktop PC that is running out of space. I created a 1500GB iSCSI target and mounted it on the PC using the iSCSI initiator in Control Panel. It worked perfectly, and a new drive appeared in Disk Management.

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Is this sensible, or should you just use a network folder which is more flexible, since it is shared storage? An iSCSI target behaves like a local drive, which can be an advantage, but iSCSI is mostly used for servers where centralising storage is convenient. You should also use a dedicated network for iSCSI, so it is probably not a great idea for a desktop PC.

I compared performance. On simple tests, such as time taken to copy a file, there was little advantage; in fact, my iSCSI drive was slightly slower: 61.2 MB/s vs 76.4 MB/s for a shared folder.

I tried ODX, copying a file from one iSCSI drive to another. Capturing the copy thermometer was a challenge, as it was near-instant:

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In general, I have been very happy with the performance of the NAS.

Folder permissions

My local network uses Active Directory (AD), so I was keen to set up permissions on the NAS using AD. Connecting a Linux server to AD can be a problem, and at first the Synology would not play. I connected it, seemingly successfully, but it would not see any users. There are threads on the Synology forums showing users with similar problems. The fix for me was to enter my Domain Controllers as IP numbers rather then FQDNs (fully qualified domain names). Since then it has worked perfectly, though DSM shows the Domain Server Type as “NT4 Domain”, puzzling when my DCs are on Server 2012 R2.

Once connected, you can set folder permissions using the Synology File Station package. First, create the shared folder, then right-click the folder and choose Permissions.

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Apps and Applications

Aside from the storage services, the main application I run on the Synology is Logitech Media Server (LMS). This used to run on a Windows server, and actually runs much better on the Synology. Search is quicker, the server is more responsive, and it is more reliable.

I tried the Synology audio and video applications, and the media server. There are various companion mobile apps, such as DS Audio and DS Video, for media playback.

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The apps I tried worked well for me, though I am sticking with LMS for home music streaming.

Final words

I have no complaints about the DS415+, which has performed well so far. Browsing through the user forums though, I have noticed some areas of difficulty. One is that the Cloud Station service, which synchs files between your NAS, computers and mobile devices, is notorious for consuming disk space. Users find their drives filling up even though the total size of their files is much less than the available space. Currently, the best advice seems to be not to use Cloud Station.

The general issue with a system like this is that the friendly GUI is great while everything is working, but if something goes wrong and you have to dive into Linux, the ease of use disappears. That is worth noting if you plan to use this as the main server in a small business (beyond storage), unless someone there has the necessary troubleshooting skills.

The device does tick a lot of boxes though: resilient storage, excellent performance, low power consumption, flexible configuration, AD integration, and enough power to run something like Logitech Media Server without blinking.

Recommended.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Kingston Predator 1TB USB stick, huge capacity but at a price

You can never have too much storage. Cloud storage has solved some problems – for example, it is probably what you now use to show images to a friend or customer – but there are still plenty of cases when you want your stuff with you. Videos, large engineering drawings, backups, virtual hard drives, high resolution audio files; the list goes on.

The advent of tablets and ultrabooks with SSDs in place of hard drives also means that on-board storage has actually reduced, compared to that laptop you used to carry with you.

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Enter Kingston, with the HyperX Predator 1TB USB 3.0 flash drive (there is also a 512GB version). Open the tin box and there it is, complete with key ring and USB cable.

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It’s small compared to a hard drive, but large for a USB stick, measuring 72mm x 26.94mm x 21mm. However, the chunky size and zinc alloy case do give you the sense that Kingston means business.

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The pen does not come with the drive; I have included it in the picture above to give you an idea of the size; it is not really that large. Note too that the zinc alloy sleeve pulls out to protect the the USB connection; it slides open and shut a little too easily for my liking. Still, it is a smart design.

What about the performance? Kingston specifies 240 MB/s read and 160 MB/s write. On my Core i5 PC with USB 3.0 I get that or slightly better copying a file:

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There are some caveats though. Initially I tried using the supplied USB cable, but the drive did not work properly. If I tried to copy a 1.5GB file the drive dismounted itself and the copy failed. I plugged the drive directly into the USB 3.0 port and it then worked perfectly.

I then tried the drive on a laptop that which has a USB 3.0 port. It worked fine with or without the cable. I am not sure what to conclude from this other than USB can be finicky.

The design of the device means that you may not be able to push the USB connection fully home, or that the device may protrude below the base of your laptop or tablet. In these cases you do need the cable.

At this price I would like to see integrated encryption, though users can use Windows Bitlocker or similar to protect their data if it is sensitive.

Despite these niggles, the device is gorgeous and amazing, in terms of the capacity you can now put in your pocket.

Is it good value? It depends what you pay of course. Right now, this thing costs £679.98 on Amazon.co.uk, supposedly a 42% saving on an RRP of £1,169.99. But you could save some money by getting one of those portable USB 3.0 cases and sticking a 1TB SSD inside; currently a Samsung 1TB SSD costs £285.75 on Amazon as well as boasting better performance: 540 MB/s read and 520 MB/s write, though even USB 3.0 will slow it down a bit.

What you would end up with though is a portable drive that is bulkier and for which a cable is unavoidable. You cannot hang it on a keyring. It is less convenient.

So there it is: if you want a handy USB stick with 1TB capacity now you can have it, but at a price.

Specification

  • USB 3.0 backward compatible with USB 2.0
  • File format: exFAT
  • Speed1 USB 3.0: 240MB/s read and 160MB/s write. USB 2.0: 30MB/s read and 30MB/s write
  • Dimensions without key ring: 72mm x 26.94mm x 21mm

 

Review: Seagate Wireless Plus combines hard drive and wi-fi for storage on the go

Need more storage for your tablet or smartphone? If so, the Seagate Wireless Plus could be just the thing. In a nutshell, this is a 1TB USB 3.0 external drive with battery power and a wi-fi access point built in. Attach it to your PC or Mac and fill it with stuff: a zillion MP3s, or a pile of videos, or pictures, or boring business presentations, or whatever you need. On the road, you power up the drive, connect your mobile device to the built-in wi-fi, and play what you want – though note there are a few complications, of which more below.

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In the box you get the drive, a USB mains adaptor, a USB port that attaches to the drive, a USB 3.0 cable, and a brief getting started manual.

To be clear, there is a protective cover on the end of the drive which pops off to reveal what looks like Seagate’s GoFlex port. Another piece plugs into this, converting it to a USB port. Slightly awkward, because you may well lose the protective cover and end up having the USB adaptor permanently attached.

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Setup is a matter of charging the battery and then connecting your mobile device to the drive’s integrated wi-fi access point. By default this is an unencrypted open connection, and if you intend to travel with the unit I recommend setting a password, which converts it into a secure encrypted connection.

Next, you download the free Seagate media app for iOS or Android, at which point you can view the contents and playback media such as music and video. What if you have a mobile device other than iOS or Android? Hang on, all is not lost.

The inherent problem here is that connecting storage to a mobile device is not as simple as on a computer, where it just appears as another drive, especially on Apple’s iOS which does not directly expose a file system to the user. This is the reason for the Seagate Media app.

Second, the obvious problem with connecting to a dedicated wi-fi access point on the Seagate drive is that you will no longer be connected to any other wi-fi network and therefore may be disconnected from the internet, or forced to use your data connection.

Fortunately Seagate has a solution, called “concurrent mode”. You use Seagate’s app to connect your drive to a second wi-fi network, such as your home wi-fi, and then your internet connectivity is restored.

While this mostly works, it is an inconvenience, since if you are out and about you will need to do this for any new wi-fi connection point you want to use. Further, as soon as you turn the drive off (or the battery runs out) you will have to connect your mobile device separately. If you then later want to reconnect to the Seagate, you have to change the wi-fi settings on the mobile again, so it is a little bit of hassle.

I used the drive on both an iPad and an Android phone, and found the setup fairly straightforward, though the Android mysteriously needed restarting before it worked properly. Playing media from the drive via the app works fine for video, images and music.

If you have a device that is neither Apple nor Android, you can still use it by connecting the wifi on the device to the Seagate, and then browsing to a mini web server on the drive. The question is: where to point the browser? Help was not helpful on this point, suggesting a wirelessplus URL that did not work at all for me, but I noticed that the network was in the 172.25.0 range, took a stab at 172.25.0.1 and found that it worked. Using a Nokia Windows Phone, for which there is no Seagate app, I could connect to the device, stay on the internet, and still easily play the media. Here is the browser view on Windows Phone:

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You can also access settings from the browser and check status:

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That said, as I connected various devices to the Seagate I found its behaviour increasingly unpredictable. On the iPad I got a mysterious message saying I was connecting through another device and should connect directly, even when I was connected directly as far as I could tell. Sometimes you lose internet connectivity and the second network connection needed to be kicked back into life through settings. You are meant to be able to have up to eight devices connected, with up to three streaming media simultaneously, but maybe this is optimistic.

The wi-fi complications are not Seagate’s fault, but inherent to providing additional storage for mobile devices, though I wonder if the firmware could be improved a bit.
Connecting the drive to a computer over USB disables the network connectivity but is otherwise straightforward. The drive is formatted with the Windows NTFS format, and a read-write NTFS driver is supplied for Mac users. Apparently you can also convert the drive to Mac HFS+ format though I did not try it. It uses a fast USB 3.0 connection when available, which is a big plus since it is much faster than USB 2.0.

There is some sync software for Windows supplied but I do not really see the point of it; personally I prefer simply to copy stuff across as needed.

According to the manual, the drive takes 3 hours to charge fully, and then has about 10 hours battery life streaming, or 25 hours standby, which is enough for most journeys. If you fancy using this on a flight, note that some airlines may not allow wi-fi to be enabled which would prevent use of the drive, other than via a laptop and USB.

Despite the fact that it is not hassle-free, I rate this drive highly based on its generous 1TB capacity and the fact that it also works fine as a standard USB 3.0 external drive, making all the mobile and battery-powered capability a nice bonus. If you need serious extra local storage for a tablet or smartphone, I cannot think of any better option.

That is the question though: do you need extra local storage for a mobile device? Internet-based storage like Dropbox, Skydrive or Google Music is more convenient, provided of course that you can connect. Most mobile devices come with built-in storage that is enough for a few videos or a fair amount of MP3 music.

There are certain scenarios where Wireless Plus will be useful, but I am not sure how common they are for most people.

Update: The Wireless Plus can also be used as a DLNA server and I have successfully used this feature both on the iPad (you can download a DNLA client from the app store; I used 8player Lite) and on Windows:

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Can you use this then as a standalone music server? Yes, though it is a shame there is no option to join the Wireless Plus to your existing network directly. I am guessing there is a way of hacking this though, if you can figure it out. It is not too bad, since once it is connected to your network using concurrent mode, other devices on your network can see it.

You can also play media from the Wireless Plus to Airplay devices such as Apple TV.

Review: Kingston DataTraveler Locker+G2 secure USB Flash drive

Ever lost a USB Flash drive? Do you even know? There are so many around now that it would be easy to drop one and not to notice.

Most of the time that does not matter; but what if there is confidential data on there? This can be hard to avoid. Perhaps you want the drive for backup of your most important stuff, or to exchange data with a business partner.

The obvious solution is to encrypt the data. There are a variety of approaches, but the advantage of the Kingston DataTraveler Locker+ G2 is that you (or your staff) have no choice: if you do not set a password, you cannot use the drive.

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The actual drive is a smart metal affair which is surprisingly weighty for its size. You can attach it to a key ring with a supplied loop. Stick it into a Mac or PC (no Linux support sadly) and two drives are detected, one a tiny 10MB drive and the other apparently empty. In order to setup the drive or access the data, you have to run Kingston’s DTLocker utility.

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The password requirements are a minimum of 6 characters with at least three of upper case, lower case, numeric and special characters.

While 6 characters seems weak it is not too bad considering that after 10 wrong attempts the device will block access and require a password reset. When the password is reset the device is automatically reformatted. In other words, if a bad guy gets your Flash drive, he will be able to reset the password and use the device, but will not see your data.

If a good guy finds your device, he can read your contact details and get in touch to return it to you.

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The general approach seems reasonable, and is a great improvement over sticking confidential data on a Flash drive and hoping for the best. However I did encounter an issue where the utility refused to run. Another drive which also appears as two drives was already connected, and somehow this tripped up the DTLocker utility. When I disconnecte the other drive, all was well. It is something to do with available drive letters, even though I still had plenty free.

Once set up, the DTLocker stays resident and offers a context menu in the Windows notification area.

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The device formats as FAT32 but I successfully reformatted it as NTFS, just to see if it would work. It did. I also had success using the DataTraveler on a Mac.

With five year warranty and an inexpensive price, the DataTraveler Locker+ is easy to recommend. There are a couple of caveats. Kingston’s firmware could do with a bit of work to overcome occasional drive letter problems. Second, I would like to see more information about the type of drive encryption used. What if a determined data thief stripped down the drive and read the data? The absence of more information suggests that Kingston is aiming this at those who want casual data protection, not the highest level of security. In normal circumstances though, it is more than enough.

Want a free Data Traveler Locker? Look out for our competition coming soon.

   

Drobo storage devices: beyond RAID

I attended Digital Winter in London this week, an event where gadgets are shown to the press.

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One that caught my eye was the Drobo range of storage devices. The market is saturated with external storage solutions, but Drobo has a neat system where you simply slot any 3.5” Sata drive – no drive bracket required – into one of its units and it will add it to a pool of storage. Drobo supports thin provisioning, which means you will typically create a volume on the pool that is bigger than the space actually available. When you are running out of space, a light on the unit will turn yellow, you buy another drive and slot it in. Presuming you have two or more drives, RAID-like resiliency is built in, though Drobo calls its system BeyondRAID because of its greater flexibility. There is even an option for dual disk redundancy, so that any two drives can fail without loss of data.

I was reminded of Microsoft’s new Storage Spaces in Windows Server 8 which offers some similar features, but of course is not yet available except in early preview.

Drobo boxes support USB, FireWire, and in the high-end models iSCSI.

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The snag: prices start at €359,00 for the 4 Bay firewire and USB 2.0 model, and the one you really want, the 8-bay DroboPro with iSCSI, is €1359.00. In the business range, the 12-bay iSCSI SAN is €10,799 and supports SAS as well as Sata drives.