An Interesting Approach to Cloud Storage
Symform is a Seattle-based company that has developed an interesting approach to cloud-based data storage. Instead of building out a traditional data center, Symform customers provide all of the local storage themselves that Symform assembles into a cloud-based offering. The system works like this:
- Data is uploaded from your local sources and divided into 64-megabyte segments that are protected using 256-bit AES encryption.
- Each 64-megabyte segment is then further broken up into one-megabyte segments.
- To each group of 64 one-megabyte segments, 32 one-megabyte parity fragments are added using a RAID algorithm.
- The 96 one-megabyte fragments are then distributed randomly across the base of Symform customers worldwide (although most are currently in North America and Europe, with a handful in Asia, South America and Africa).
When a customer pulls down data from the cloud, it’s gathered from these disparate sources and assembled into the file(s) that have been requested. The 32 parity segments for each block of 64 one-megabyte segments adds 50% to the overall storage requirement, but makes the system highly redundant when local storage is corrupted, customers’ storage systems are turned off or otherwise unavailable, etc.
One of the fundamental advantages of the Symform approach is its very low cost: the first 200 gigabytes of storage is free, while unlimited storage for three users is just $100 annually. The only “catch,” if you can call it that, is that customers must provide as much storage locally as they receive in the cloud, since they—in effect—are the cloud. Symform’s goal in using this highly distributed model is to drive down the cost of cloud-based storage, making it comparable in price to local storage.
This model of cloud storage raises a couple of important questions:
- Are data protection laws obsolete, such as those that require data not to leave a certain geographic region? Because data using the Symform model is encrypted, then broken up into small bits and then distributed all over the world, content stored in this manner is actually more protected against inadvertent or malicious interception than it is if data is stored traditionally in a “protected” geographic region.
- Can cloud storage be as inexpensive as local storage? While Symform’s current pricing model makes cloud storage only modestly more expensive than local, it will be interesting to see if the model is sustainable (I believe it will be).
Symform’s innovative offering is very definitely worth a closer look if you’re at all interested in using the cloud to store some or all of your data.
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