Protect your data by breaking it apart

Storage startups Cleversafe and RevStor turn the tables on traditional disk drive use -- to worthwhile results

Current data growth rates suggest we will someday hit a limit beyond which we will no longer be able to store data reliably. A large part of this problem is infoglut. How we use disk drives is also partially to blame.

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Too often we write data to disk as if we were storing sheets of paper, wrapping logically related information into bundles and then moving on to the next sheet and the next bundle when starting a new topic. And then, to prevent data loss, we make copies of every piece of information, often following with a second replica on removable media.

But what if we could use disk drives differently to create reliable, secure single instances of our data? Enter dispersed storage, a new approach to using disk drives as proposed by startups Cleversafe and RevStor.

Cleversafe, which InfoWorld featured in May as part of our Month of Enterprise Startups, suggests we shred our data and store each fragment, encrypted, on a separate node.

As with a shredded paper document, no single data fragment can give away the whole. Because of this, dispersed storage is inherently more secure than traditional methods. Only the owner can bring the data confetti back together.

To that model, Cleversafe adds redundancy, allowing the system to recover the original data even if multiple fragments have been lost. The result is a resilient single-copy system that makes traditional competitors -- often shot down by just two broken drives -- seem frail by comparison. Moreover, Cleversafe's system is location-independent, allowing its nodes to be spread just about anywhere there is a good broadband connection.

Last week Cleversafe made new waves by releasing to the open source community the latest version of its software, which now offers access from iSCSI clients, among other significant developments. Sound intriguing? Check out Cleversafe's comprehensive glossary, download its software for a test ride, and then volunteer for the open source project, if so inclined.

As for RevStor, its flagship SANware product presents a decidedly different take on the concept of dispersed storage. SANware is targeted to address your disk-to-disk backup needs in the datacenter. By installing it on at least 10 machines (the more, the better), you can create a distributed pool of storage for replicating your important data.

You won’t need to add more storage, because SANware uses whatever disk space is available on each machine. You can, however, set up rules of behavior for each node, enabling you to limit the amount of storage and network bandwidth available to the pool.

You can also instruct each node to automatically delete SANware data if the available space dips below a certain threshold. The idea of automatically deleting data from a replica might make some people cringe, but there is no risk, RevStor CTO Russ Felker explains, because the product allows you to build in redundancy and has a fail-safe mechanism to prevent data loss.

During my conversation with Felker, I also learned that RevStor is working on a second dispersed storage product that targets primary, first-tier storage, but we won’t see that until next year. Meanwhile, you can download SANware and use it for free for 30 days.

I definitely suggest you take both products out for a test-drive. You will be surprised to find out how effective disk drives can be when used efficiently.

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