A crazy data backup scheme that works

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Symform's groundbreaking online data backup offering is turning heads, but can it win over skeptics?

I can think of a lot of words to describe small-business data protection -- "painful" and "expensive," to name two. But "cool" and "sexy?" Generally not.

Those last terms apply, however, to Symform's distributed peer-to-peer online backup architecture. This wildly innnovative approach has the potential to reduce the pain of small-business backup, provided it can win enough hearts and minds to stand the test of time.

Online backup in general beats the usual DIY slog, which is why more and more small businesses are taking the online route. With no dedicated IT staff, the simple act of ensuring that backup tapes have been changed is an error-prone hassle. Unfortunately, the online option has a big downside: If you're pushing more than a few gigabytes, it can get very expensive very quickly.

Online data backup and its discontents

Most online backup schemes ship your data off to the backup provider's data center, where it is stored and hopefully mirrored to a secondary data center. Given that the backup provider has to store and mirror all of your data (as well as all data from other customers), the biggest cost in managing your backups is in providing rock-solid back-end storage. And that's reflected in the dreaded per-gigabyte fee.

Data availability everywhere

From a data availability perspective, this means that no fewer than 33 of the 96 cloud-based nodes for that original 64MB block of data would have to become unavailable simultaneously for you to actually lose access to your data. It's certainly conceivable that some nodes will go offline occasionally or stop using Symform's service, but having more than a third become unavailable simultaneously is extremely unlikely. In situations where a storage cloud node goes offline, Symform can immediately reconstitute the data blocks it had been storing and move that data onto other nodes, which ensures that the highest level of reliability is maintained.

Having your data so heavily distributed also means getting it back in the event that you end up needing it is much faster. If you've ever used BitTorrent, you're already familiar with the concept: Utilizing the bandwidth of hundreds or thousands of small Internet connections spread throughout the world can crush the performance and reliability of a single high-performance Internet connection.

Symform data security

From a data security perspective, each of the cooperative cloud storage nodes that houses your data has only a 1/64 chunk of any given block of your encrypted data. If someone wanted to see your data, first they'd need to find the other 63 nodes in the cloud cooperative with that particular block of info, break into each of them to steal that block, and reassemble them. Given that each node has no idea whose data it's storing, someone would have to gain total access to Symform's own centralized databases to know which block was where.

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