Symform's decentralized approach to cloud storage

Symform's decentralized approach to cloud storage

Summary: Service provider makes use of customers' unused disk space to minimize environmental impact, rewrite cloud storage pricing rules.


Being that cloud storage and backup services were one of the most successful "stories" of 2011, what makes Symform different from the dozens of other companies that are targeting this space? Its decentralized approach to storing customers' data throughout the cloud, ala that grid computing model that you used to read so much about.

Not only is this approach potentially a greener tactic than other cloud storage service providers because it makes use of capacity that already exists within businesses, it has enabled the Seattle-based company to create a pricing model that includes up to 200 gigabytes of storage capacity for free.

Symform uses what it calls its Resilient Storage Architecture to create a pool of storage resources across the Internet. Data being stored across that pool is distributed, encrypted and shredded using RAID-96 technology so that information isn't exposed to a single point of failure.

One of the analysts that follows storage approaches, Paul Burns, president of Neovise, said:

"Symform's disruptive approach to the cloud storage industry has allowed customers to radically reduce their online storage costs to make moving to the cloud practical. By allowing customers to connect underutilized local storage to a decentralized network of shared storage, the company avoids the high cost of maintaining data centers and is able to offer as much as 200 gigabytes for free."

Actually, Symform "only" gives away 100 gigabytes of storage for free when you sign up, but that already is far more than many other organizations offer. You can get up to 200 gigabytes by referring other businesses to the company (up to 10 gigabytes of storage for every successful referral).

For businesses that are seeking to create a redundant set of data for backup and disaster recovery purposes, and that have a significant amount of local storage that they aren't using, the service might make senses.

From a green standpoint, the decentralized model certainly insulates Symform from the high electricity costs and energy-efficiency concerns of its main competitors.

Topics: Storage, Data Management

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  • First test

    • new Symform , 10 Gb Free for all

      Symform make new settings , You can get free 10Gb now
  • Undersell

    Narrowing the benefits of symform down to simply 'green' and 'first 100-200GB free' is a huge undersell (Fair enough, I know that's the focus of your column.)

    1. Since its invention in 1988, enterprise storage has changed the I in RAID from inexpensive: now using exhorbitantly expensive RAID6 with bespoke controllers and drives collected in powerful expensive servers. The benefit of the grid architecture is that it (re)uses commodity items. The 64 out of 96 RAID striping means that an earthquake in Japan or lightning strikes in Atlanta only remove 2 of the 96 copies. This is how resilient cloud computing should be.

    2. Instead of customers moving everything into a vendor's cloud and paying the piper's rates for ever more ... data and processing power remain on customers' machines, as does control.

    3. All data resides on the edge of the network, instead of RAID1 I have one copy of my data locally and various chunks of other people's data encrypted at RAID 64 of 96 on my machine. The cloud only contains the indices of data locations and so is very small. Indeed it reminds me of that other efficient distribution technology: bittorrent.

    4. This efficiency allows the provider to offer a ceiling on costs. After the introductory 100GB the annual cost for consumer and business use is independent of data volume, so whether you have 1TB or 1PB the annual cost is fixed (and far lower than AMAZON and DROPBOX). In other words the solution scales ... but the costs don't follow upwards! Now that's what I call the right answer!!

    Symform would be my choice for PRODUCT OF THE YEAR: should it and the providing company mature, then they will become a major competitor to the current greedy incumbents in the storage industry. Indeed I am hoping for similar offerings from new companies outflanking the likes of M$, AMAZON, Apple et al as we move to the cloud.

    Suggestion for future SMB article: inexpensive resilient Internet connectivity e.g. normal ADSL line secured by automatic failover/resume to 3G/4G. What good value solutions are out there?
  • Geographic resilience

    My question with symform, and I believe its a neat idea, is one of geographic resilience to disasters. I expect that a disproportionate number of symforms customers are located in places like the west coast- California, Washington, etc. If you have more than 50% of your participants in one area, then you'd need a redundancy level to lose 50% of your "drives" and still operate in the event that there is a natural disaster.

    So I'm wondering how/whether symform deals with this. Many cloud backup services offer geographic redundancy so you can be assured that your data is replicated in whole to both coasts of the US so as to survive all manners of disaster. While their whitepaper says they're geographically distributed around the world, I wonder how that's evenly possible since its largely a volunteer network and as such would be subject to disproportionate participation. They would need to artificially limit their capacity to the amount of storage that could be evenly distributed, or offer classes of service that have associated risks. I'm not sure if they've fully addressed how this is handled in that white-paper.
    Byron Guernsey
    • ...Seems to get a checkmark