Cleversafe updates distributed storage idea

The open-source start-up revs up its open-source software for protecting data by stashing bits of it hither and thither.

Open-source software start-up Cleversafe has a new twist on an ages-old warning not to put all your eggs in one basket.

If it were up to the Chicago-based company, you'd protect your data by putting slices of your eggs in multiple baskets scattered across the globe.

In the earlier version of the company's software, you could reconstruct your entire egg collection even if five of eleven baskets were destroyed in earthquakes, swamped by tsunamis, consumed in an overheated data center inferno or otherwise lost. A new version released Tuesday, though, lets users choose their own egg slice and basket settings, which means they can emphasize storage economy or higher reliability.

Cleversafe's technology is called dispersed storage. The company develops open-source software under the General Public License (GPL) that enables the approach and sells hardware that lets customers implement the concept. The promise of the technology is that you get the benefits of numerous backup sites without the expense of reproducing the entire data set at each site, said Russ Kennedy, the company's newly hired vice president of marketing.

"Slicing and dispersing information vs. copying it two, three or four times--the raw economics between those two approaches is significant," Kennedy said.

However, dispersed storage doesn't show cost savings for smaller-scale archiving needs, he added. "If it's under 100 terabytes, it's probably not as interesting. If you're above, you're talking real money, especially compared with triple replication."

Another limitation is the time lag of storing the data, which is long enough that dispersed storage today is good only for archiving. Kennedy said the company plans to enable new uses in a future release that works faster and with larger amounts of data. "We're working very diligently on a next release, which is going to allow dispersed storage networks to expand from a scalability and capacity perspective and also from a performance perspective."

The latest version of Cleversafe--numbered 0.74 internally, and the 15th major update--now supports a storage networking standard called iSCSI. That technology lets a computer store data over the Internet as if it were communicating with a local hard drive.

"Most organizations today have access to operating systems that talk iSCSI. Therefore we chose that interface so it would be easier for customers to connect to the platform," Kennedy said.

The company also launched a new Cleversafe.org Web site for the open-source aspects of its business. The hope is to encourage outside programmers to participate.

"This is really the first release where we're seeking to have the community extend it. It's like a foundation," Kennedy said.

Cleversafe, founded in November 2004, has 35 employees and has gone through an angel investment round and a venture capital funding round.

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About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.

 

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