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Open-source grid storage project goes commercial

Some of you may have heard of Cleversafe, until now an open-source research project working to develop the prototype of a system that would automatically spread data over geographically dispersed grids while encrypting it.

Cleversafe has been making slow but steady progress over the last year and a half or so and have been keeping me updated. Their concept, is an interesting one: a way to automate the “chunking” of data over geographically dispersed nodes through new algorithms that also make each chunk of data unreadable, essentially combining primary storage with disaster recovery and data security all in one go, as our friends across the pond would say.

So far, Cleversafe has launched itself as an open-source project, invited developers to play with the Dispersed Storage Network (DSNet) prototype, and signed up 14 internet service provider (ISP) partners to pilot the service. This spring, those partners will begin to sell some actual software and hardware to go with the pie-in-the-sky concept.

The new products, which will be generally available May 31, include a storage node, called the Cleversafe Slicestor; a storage router, called the Cleversafe Accesser; and a software management console called the Cleversafe Manager. Each Slicestor will hold 3 TB raw in a 1U pizza box. There is no formal restriction on the number of Slicestors and Accesser nodes in one grid, but the first products will be offered in groups of 8 and 16 nodes, with a 4:1 ratio of storage to router nodes recommended. The nodes can be kept in a single rack in one location or distributed globally. Cleversafe says its business model will be to offer its grids directly to enterprises, as well as ISPs and managed service providers who can offer Cleversafe storage as an online or hosted service.

This is the kind of stuff that really intrigues me in the storage market–the kind of stuff that makes me envision Conan O’Brien with a flashlight under his chin singing “In the Year 2000…” The futuristic stuff. As a general, all-around nerd, it’s interesting to me to talk to the people planning the next generation of technology, to learn what the challenges are and what goals their sights are set on. The Cleversafe concept is a particularly interesting one to me given the global-scale DR challenges we’re beginning to face.

When we chatted about it last week, though, Taneja Group founder Arun Taneja tempered my enthusiasm with the reminder that future products are just that: in the future, and the proof is in the pudding. “At the concept level I’ve never had any issue with Cleversafe,” he said. “But while the concept is interesting, provability will take a long time.” Cleversafe must show its product can support multi-tenancy environments reliably, without mixing up data chunks, and must show that its performance and ability to recover data are what it says they are.

And while some of the deepest innovations in technology are happening around storage, Taneja also reminded me that the market for storage products remains more conservative than most. “Even if Cleversafe can prove that this is the best thing since sliced bread, the GMs, Fords and Pepsis of the world would have to test something like this for years before they’d trust it,” he said.

So we might not be looking at The Storage Internet ™ anytime soon. But I’m going to keep watching.

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