A crazy data backup scheme that works

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

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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.

After that, they'd still have to break the AES encryption. Barring a serious flaw in Symform's encryption implementation, this is better than most commercial encryption methodologies I've seen. If you're incredibly paranoid, you can even use your backup software to encrypt the data Symform is storing before the service ever sees it.

Online data backup won't change overnight

As cool as I think Symform's idea is on paper, they have an uphill fight on their hands to gain market acceptance. The idea is new enough that many will be turned off just by the fact that it's so different. As one of my colleagues said recently: "Still creeps me out. Call me old school." You can bet that sentiment will be shared by many potential customers. Worse, the functionality and integrity of the product depends very heavily on having a large number of customers.

So far, Symform has handled this by attempting to build a robust partner channel rather than going directly to end-users as most online backup providers do. Winning over a limited set of partners and relying on them to make the pitch seems like a good strategy. If Symform survives long enough to be considered trustworthy, I can see this inventive distributed approach taking the online backup world by storm. No matter how it turns out, you have to hand it to these guys for thinking outside the box.

This article, "A crazy data backup scheme that works," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Matt Prigge's Information Overload blog and follow the latest developments in storage at InfoWorld.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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