Free: 100GB of cloud storage!

Free: 100GB of cloud storage!

Summary: Tired of paying $20 a month for 100 GB of online Dropbox storage? Now you can get 100GB free with no download speed limits and exceptional security and reliability. How?

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TOPICS: Hardware, CXO, Storage
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I spoke to the ex-Microsofties, Parerit Garg and Bassam Tabbara, who founded Symform on a simple premise: the world's cheapest data storage is sitting unused inside your computer or on external USB disks. To get that free 100 GB, all you have to do is donate 150 GB of your unused disk space.

At five cents per gigabyte - less if you buy a new 2 or 3 TB USB drives - that free 100 GB will cost you $7.50 plus negligible power costs, forever. Not completely free, but you'll never see a better deal for online storage.

Just put a folder alias on your desktop and you have a way cheaper Dropbox replacement.

How does it work? The technology uses an advanced form of erasure coding, used in a simpler and less robust form in today's RAID 5 systems. In Symform's much more resilient version your 100GB could be spread across as many as 150,000 disk drives around the world, instead of five or six.

To recover a file the system only needs to see the data from 2/3rds of the drives to reconstruct your file. Let's see how this works.

Let's start with a 1 GB video file. Using Symform's client software and user account you put that file into your local Symform backup folder.

The software takes your data, breaks it into 64 MB blocks, encrypts each block with AES-256 encryption, using a hash of the block as the encryption key, and then shards the encrypted block into as many as 96 pieces, where each piece includes an additional 50% of erasure coding replication data.

That's why to get 100 GB of free online storage, you have to offer 150 GB - 50% more - of your own local storage.

This level of erasure coding goes way beyond what RAID 5 offers. With RAID 5 one disk failure and then a single unrecoverable read error during data reconstruction wipes out your data. With this system fully one third of the drives can be down and your data will still be recoverable.

That is serious disaster tolerance.

More benefits

  • Fast restores. Since the data lives on thousands of computers restores happen in parallel across thousands of Internet connections, making reconstruction much faster than relying on a single shared datacenter link.
  • Deduplication. Data deduplication - all the rage in the enterprise world - is standard as well. By using a hash of the data block's content, the system can see if a block is already stored online and avoid uploading it again.
  • Parallel uploads. To speed uploads you can make copies of your data, move it to different upload sites, and run them in parallel, letting Symform deduplicate already stored blocks. Cool.

Control If Symform doesn't provide the storage, why do they charge at all? Because the control system that keeps tabs on your data requires some hefty computes and storage as well as serious redundancy. But it also means that you are buying a service, at a flat fee, rather than storage whose costs rise with capacity.

The only requirement is that you donate 50% more of your unused local storage than you use online. Fair enough?

The Storage Bits take Average enterprise storage utilization rates are 30-40% of total capacity. There's lots of already spinning, powered, cooled and unused storage capacity in the world today.

Unlike Airbnb, the online home-sharing network, the Symform system protects against data vandalism. Each shard is checked to ensure it is the right data and unmodified by another host. They don't allow applications to access and modify the data, nor can the sharded, encrypted and parity-laden data act as an app on your system.

It is a great concept, but the proof is in the pudding. I'll be testing out the system. If you do too, please comment or contact me directly on your experience.

Comments welcome, of course.

Topics: Hardware, CXO, Storage

About

Robin Harris has been a computer buff for over 35 years and selling and marketing data storage for over 30 years in companies large and small.

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69 comments
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  • RE: Free: 100GB of cloud storage!

    The bigger question is how much internet data will this thing drain? Using the Cloud is hard enough with the data caps, and you want to add downloading and uploading tons of data in the background. Not to mention killing speeds for those with low-speed connections. If you want to do anything else with your data (i.e. HD Streaming) then you might as well shoot yourself now.

    It's the same reason you don't see many people actively seeding torrents.
    Aerowind
    • RE: Free: 100GB of cloud storage!

      @Aerowind

      I agree. It will never work with data caps broadband. The cloud storage is just another way of company to generate more revenue. I still use external hard drive to back up all my files.
      ivanjee
      • RE: Free: 100GB of cloud storage!

        @ivanjee <br>I disagree with both. Yes, it is not for mobile use and it is not for those with dialup, but many people have verizon fios or similar and companies have fast connections, so speed and caps are not the problem...your data being somewhere out there may be though, though it's encrypted and shredded more than anything you can shred with your paper shredder . ALso, your uplink will be somewhat affected, but you are not downloading files all the times, so shouldn't be an issue for your regular streaming tasks
        SDRebel
    • RE: Free: 100GB of cloud storage!

      @Aerowind Data caps? On broadband?

      Pretty sad:(.
      CobraA1
      • RE: Free: 100GB of cloud storage!

        @CobraA1
        There are greedy cable companies out there that impose caps. My cap is for peak hours, but a cap nonetheless. 50GB down, 30 up. I only call them greedy because of the idiotic reason they give for the cap. They say it's so they have enough bandwidth for new customers. I call BS on that. The people who live in town (Stroudsburg and E. Stroudsburg PA), if they have any sense, have Verizon FIOS or dsl. Also, people aren't moving up here in droves like they were 20 years ago, and finally, I see more and more satellite dishes going up as the years go by. My evaluation is that Blue Ridge Cable is probably struggling to maintain it's market share. I'm just going by what I see, but I could be wrong. Most of my neighbors share my feeling about BRC, if Verizon was available, we'd all be gone.
        John Lindsey
    • RE: Free: 100GB of cloud storage!

      @Aerowind.. I haven't understood the point of uploading 100GB of data on the internet and then downloading the same when required.. What is the sole purpose of the cloud?<br><br><a href=http://www.q3tech.com/cloud_platforms.html>Cloud Computing Platforms</a>
      christajoe
      • RE: Free: 100GB of cloud storage!

        @christajoe For when you are on someone else's computer. Also, chrome books.
        macuserpi
  • RE: Free: 100GB of cloud storage!

    *THIS* is 'The Cloud' on acid. One has absolutely no idea where their data resides. Nor does anyone have any idea exactly what they are storing for others.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • RE: Free: 100GB of cloud storage!

      @Rabid Howler Monkey
      However, their data is encrypted and anyone who it only actually has little pieces of it anyway. Probably not enough to recreate anything too incriminating.

      This reminds me a little bit of Freenet, without the anarchy.
      x I'm tc
      • RE: Free: 100GB of cloud storage!

        @jdakula A miscreant malware scenario for the cloud:<br><br>Step 1 - Use Amazon S3 for command and control of your malware campaign (this was very recently reported by zdnet, see the zero-day blog)<br><br>Step 2 - Use Symform to store the pilfered data in the cloud, both encrypted and sharded, perhaps even on your victims PCs.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
  • RE: Free: 100GB of cloud storage!

    Who controls the encryption keys?
    bmgoodman
    • RE: Free: 100GB of cloud storage!

      @bmgoodman Symform. But even if hackers got your keys, they'd still have to find out where 2/3rds of your data is stored to access it. Non-trivial, IMHO.
      R Harris
      • RE: Free: 100GB of cloud storage!

        @R Harris With Wuala, I control the encryption keys. Nobody else. Just me. I think I'll stick with Wuala, don't want another Dropbox fiasco.
        IngoDean
      • RE: Free: 100GB of cloud storage!

        @R Harris You meant trivial, right? As in the risk is relatively trivial? Or are you saying that you /do/ think it's a risk worthy of concern?
        SenorAlejandro
      • RE: Free: 100GB of cloud storage!

        @idean
        I use Drop box, but only for things that I don't care about security. I can pass out a URL, and make a file public. I can grab a file from elsewhere easily, without having to bring anything along, etc. Anything with sensitive data that needs to go from place to place is either on a private server or in my pocket on a thumb drive. Backups are all on private hardware.
        grant@...
      • RE: Free: 100GB of cloud storage!

        @SenorAlejandro He means it's a non-trivial task for hackers to find 2/3 of your data to recreate your files.
        Aerowind
      • RE: Free: 100GB of cloud storage!

        @SenorAlejandro

        By "Non-trivial", I think he means the effort it would take to find and collect enough pieces of your info to reconstruct it. Think of it like this: if you had a single sheet of paper with confidential info on it, and you shredded it with a cross-cut shredder into hundreds of pieces and put each piece in a separate trash bag filled with other shreds of paper, and sent each bag to a different landfill, it might be as secure as the way Symform encrypts and shreds your data...maybe.
        DEFleener
  • Brilliant!

    I hope it's as good as it sounds ...

    ... and it sounds right: an architecture for a secure global data store ... without the burden of legacy providers and their outrageous costs.

    Symform is my idea of a cloud architecture ... not the bleatings of the corporate sheep here on ZDNET who recommend AMAZON and DROBO (sorry Robin - I'll forgive you if this works!).

    Now where did I put my port forwarding manual?
    jacksonjohn
    • RE: Free: 100GB of cloud storage!

      @johnfenjackson@... Amazon gets expensive fast, as noted in <a href="http://www.zdnet.com/blog/storage/build-a-135tb-array-for-7384/1453" target="_blank">Build a 135TB array for $7,384</a>. I do recommend Drobo to storage civilians who want local storage that just works. No matter how fast your Internet connection, local will always be faster.
      R Harris
  • Really free 25 GB

    Windows Live provides for each account you make really free 25GB of cloud storage including 5 GB of fully syncable cloudstorage (thru Live Mesh).
    A much much better deal.
    IE9