One of the most technically audacious companies I've seen announced itself at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference yesterday: Bitcasa.
Technically, it's a virtualized primary storage company. With this product, your main storage is actually in the "cloud," and because of that, it's pretty much unlimited. Your local hard drive is used--heavily--for the cache. If the technology works, this architecture should give you storage that's just as fast as a local-only hard drive, but with more capacity and reliability. Bitcasa will cost $10 a month with no storage cap for users. (A free version will be "less than unlimited," the company says).
Readers who follow me know how much I'm a fan of apps and services that synchronize local storage to the cloud, so they won't be surprised that I really like this idea. With Bitcasa, in concept anyway, users no longer have to worry about a single local hard-drive failure eating their data, since everything is mirrored on the Internet. Users also get all their data on all their devices, and every time you get a new computer, you just point it to your account and all your data appears on your local device. Whether it's actually there is another matter, but if Bitcasa is fast and smart enough, you'll never know nor care.
CEO Tony Gauda confirmed for me that there are some large challenges to bringing a product like this to market. Security is one. Bitcasa encrypts everything end to end and in the cloud, so absent a password hack, the data can't leave the system. Even if the network is secure, though, there's the perception that it may not be; Dropbox's still weighs on this sector.
Also, as Gauda says, "We can't make single-user products multiuser." So if you use a Bitcasa drive for an app like Outlook or iTunes, and try to access that file from multiple computers at once, you might have problems. Bitcasa lets you share your files among your computers, or with friends and co-workers.
But more importantly, there's the fact that consumers are actually moving to more native Web apps, like Google Docs, Yahoo Mail, and Flickr, not to mention smartphones and tablets that often don't have user-accessible file systems. So while Bitcasa is cool and useful, I do wonder how long that will be the case. Gauda says that, actually, the company is working on technology to help Web app developers shunt data between services, again using the Bitcasa "drive" as a consumer's main storage space.
There are also big competitors to worry about: The mythical GDrive, for example, and Apple's imminent iCloud storage product. But, Gauda says, nobody is going to offer what he's doing. Apple's iCloud will be, at best, an online mirror of your local storage, with limits. Bitcasa will be unlimited. "We want the hard drive you just bought to be the last one you need."
Gauda says he can make this business work at $10 a month with unlimited storage. The company is aggressive about data de-duplication, and furthermore, most users have less than 25GB of data. With cheap bandwidth and cheap storage, it works. The 8-person company has raised $1.3 million and counts Andreessen Horowitz and the CrunchFund as its backers.
The product should be out "in a couple of months" for OS X first, and then Windows. There will be a quick way to "cloudify" any directory, except your boot files, Gauda says. I'm excited about this product, but like many users I think, I'll be scared to use it at first.