Storage goes node to node

The bad guys do it. Malware and terrorists distribute themselves, hide, and wait for a call from Mother. Now one company is doing the same with backup storage. As the bad guys have known for a long time, the strategy is cheap and reliable.

“It’s disruptive as hell” for the data storage industry, says up-to-now Tableau vice president of business development and “disruption junkie” Kevin Brown. He’s leaving in-the-pink Tableau for for VC-funded Symform. Giving the news to Tableau CEO Christian Chabot was painful, he says. “I had the siren song in my head, and I just had to chase it.”

It sounds like he’s jumping onto another good product.

As he described the choices for data backup at small- and medium-sized businesses, I glanced at my removable 1TB hard drive an arm’s reach from the keyboard. It’s the center of my backup system. I could take it with me at night, but I usually don’t. A megabyte or two of crucial data does get backed up every hour over FTP, but cost and speed limit me there. After a major earthquake, fire, or burglary, I might be out cold. I’m probably typical.

Instead, I could trade storage with other nodes — indirectly, arranged automatically at a central point. I keep bits of others’ data, and they all keep bits of mine. Each of us uses as much storage as we contribute. Instead of putting my own data on that external drive across the desk from me, I put someone else’s there.

Symform encrypts each file and breaks it up into 64 fragments. They’re dispersed randomly into the cloud. An algorithm known as Reed-Solomon ensures error-free transmission.

But what if one of my fragments goes to, say, Kabul and the computer gets blown up? No problem, he says. The control center monitors the fragments constantly. When one goes missing, the system regenerates it and moves it somewhere else on the globe.

“By an order of magnitude, we’re more secure,” he says.

After a disaster, retrieving the backed up data would go faster, he says, because you’ll be pulling on 96 locations at once instead of just one over one throttled pipe.

They’re charging $30 for unlimited storage. That is, up to the limits of your “contribution folder,” the space you make available in your office. As the sign said at a buffet in Reno, “Take all you want, but eat all you take.”

This is disruptive for the storage industry, perhaps, but not for Kevin’s lunch and golf habits. The Symform office is just a “four iron” away from Tableau headquarters.

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