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Ocarina will pay you 10 grand to beat it at data compression

Ocarina Networks, which came out of stealth in April, claims its compression appliance will reduce file data on primary storage systems. Its main competitor, StorWize, applies standard (2:1) compression to files, but Ocarina claims 10:1 compression and the ability to compress already compressed objects, such as video and photos. The company even claims its algorithms can be used to create a 3-D cube of numeric values to represent a photo or video image, so it can recognize elements that it has “seen” before.  Pretty interesting, albeit ice-cream-headache-inducing stuff.

So it was puzzling to see the announcement of the Ocarina Compression Prize, a $1 million fund that will be doled out in $10,000 increments for each submission that advances the current best scoring compressor by at least 3%. Isn’t the idea supposed to be that Ocarina has the most compression expertise in the market?

“A lot of our compression work is already based on prior art,” CEO Murli Thirumale told me. The idea, he explained, is to make this contest a “category builder,” raising interest in the subject of primary storage compression. “A lot of compression work is focused around transmission of files, rather than reducing them for storage. We want to encourage the best minds in compression to address it in that context.”

So I guess it doesn’t matter how many cool algorithms you can bring to the table if there isn’t really a market yet. “As there’s more widespread adoption [for products], clearly [vendors] with a leadership stance will benefit more,” Thirumale said.

“Good compression has a history of coming from independent researchers, open source or anywhere that can foster easy standardization and non-proprietary code,” Taneja Group analyst Jeff Boles says. “So this seems like a pretty good approach to me. Interesting stunt to boot.”  

The initial prize fund will include awards for three categories: JPEG 2000 recompression, h.264 video recompression and an industry file mix for engineering CAD file types. Maybe Riverbed, Silver Peak and Autodesk will jump in on that last one.

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Thanks for the update of Ocarina. I'm interested in Compression Contest. I've only only used data compression to send files to colleagues, however I can see how compression will decrease the amount of data storage I require.
Amazing news. What an interesting challenge. Like the netflix prize! Finally some real innovation in computer science !