Start-up commercializes open source storage

Posted on April 01, 2008

By Kevin Komiega

The Cleversafe project was launched on the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) as an open-source storage initiative with one goal: creating a “storage Internet.” Fast forward two years, and the technology has grown from an idea into a reality with the news that Cleversafe will soon make its technology available as commercial products that will allow end users to build and manage their own Dispersed Storage Networks (dsNets).

Cleversafe’s products are based on the use of information dispersal algorithms (IDAs) and a grid architecture to divide data into encrypted “slices” instead of making multiple copies of the same information.

The technology uses basic algebra to carve data into 11 encrypted pieces, each containing less than 10% of the original data. Each piece is then dispersed via secure network connections to storage nodes locally or in remote data centers.

Russ Kennedy, Cleversafe’s VP of marketing, says a dsNet can be an ideal platform for storing and archiving digital assets when compared to traditional storage architectures because it can tolerate multiple simultaneous failures of hardware while keeping data secure and accessible.

“Our technology enables users to cost-effectively store large fixed-content storage objects and can scale more effectively than current replication and copy technologies,” says Kennedy.

A commercial version of the Cleversafe Dispersed Storage Network can be built by deploying and inter-connecting three appliance-based components: the CS Slicestor (also referred to as the Dispersed Storage server), CS Accesser Dispersed Storage router, and CS Manager Dispersed Storage network manager

The CS Slicestor provides 3TB of raw storage capacity per 1U server, while the CS Accesser slices up, disperses, and retrieves data stored on the Slicestors. The CS Manager functions as an out-of-band network appliance that manages, monitors, and produces statistical reports on capacity utilization and error conditions.

A CS Slicestor appliance costs $11,300, while both the CS Accesser and CS Manager systems cost $12,300. A typical configuration of eight Slicestors, two Accessers, and one Manager delivers 24TB of raw capacity.

Kennedy claims a typical configuration can be configured with up to 13 “nines” of calculated reliability and lists at approximately $127,000.

Cleversafe’s components can be used to build dsNets of any size. The fault tolerance of the dsNet requires that only a subset of the data slices is necessary to retrieve data, resulting in access without disruption, even when systems or entire data centers are down.

Kennedy says there are fewer bits stored on a dsNet than with copy-based architectures because data is not copied, which results in cost reductions on hardware, bandwidth, management, power, and space.

Cleversafe’s dsNet incorporates both iSCSI and block-device interfaces, which allow any dsNet to appear as a network device on the desktop, enabling users to transparently store and retrieve files as if they were using a local hard drive. The dsNet also integrates with many existing backup and archiving applications.

Cleversafe’s commercial products became available at the end of March. The company will also continue to offer its software for free under a General Public License (GPL) at Cleversafe.org.

Kennedy says users of the open-source license are mostly research institutions, universities, and companies looking for new methods for storing data. “The typical users of open-source technology are highly technical and will still be able to download our software and use it to build their own storage networks,” he says.