I had a con call with Chris Gladwin and Russ Kennedy of Cleversafe a couple of weeks ago. They’ve come to market with a product line that seeks to deliver:

  • Massive scalability to meet growing digital content requirements
  • Unprecedented Security and Privacy for critical digital assets
  • Survivability against disasters, dishonesty and time
  • Extremely cost-effective infrastructure compared to traditional methods

That’s a quote from their pitch.

Cleversafe’s product line
Cleversafe, IIRC, started as a software company, but their announced products come in nice rack-mountable boxes. There are 3 of them:

  • CS Slicestor – Dispersed Storage server – $11.3k
  • CS Accesser – Dispersed Storage router – $12.3k
  • CS Manager – Dispersed Storage network manager – $12.3k

The Slicestor is a 1U storage server containing 4 disks. The Accessor slices up the data and distributes it – think slice router. The Manager works out of band to monitor and manage the storage network components.

I assume the pricing includes some room for volume discounts. There is an open-source version (c. 2006) of the software. The company intends to offer a software-only version as well.

Why hardware?
The Conventional Wisdom in VC circles is that tin-wrapped software ramps revenues faster – hey, you’re selling tin + bits – at the cost of lower margins and loss of focus.

Qualifying hardware is non-trivial; so you tend to stay on one platform longer than you should. At liquidity event time, software companies fetch higher multiples, so it may be a net loss. VCs live by the Golden Rule: he who has the gold makes the rules.

What it does
Cleversafe has an iSCSI or block storage interface. It takes the data, slices it into small pieces using Information Dispersal Algorithms and then ships the slices off to storage either locally or around the world.

In the latest version you can specify how many slices the system makes and how many slices are required to rebuild the data. If you have 11 data centers around the world, you can specify that, say, 6 are required to recreate the data.

You could lose access to 5 data centers and still recover. If the local controlling authority busts into 3 or 4 data centers, they get nothing. Pretty cool if you worry about corrupt government officials getting hold of your company secrets.

The company is planning on adding FTP, CIFS and NFS in the fullness of time.

How well it works
Cleversafe claims that given sufficient low-latency bandwidth the dispersed storage is as fast as a local disk. That’s a tall order, but for now I’ll take their word for it.

Who should buy it?
The company is aiming the Dispersed Storage Network at ISPs to offer as a service and multinationals with round the clock operations and critical data.

How it works
Cleversafe uses Cauchy Reed Solomon erasure codes to slice and dice the data. These codes have several advantages:

  • More capacity efficient and failure tolerant than parity codes
  • Doesn’t require a license
  • Code and decode are faster than other stack operations

If you’d like to play with Cauchy Reed Solomon, check out Dr. Jim Plank’s software page which includes

. . . Reed-Solomon coding, Cauchy Reed-Solomon coding, general bit-matrix coding, Reed-Solomon coding optimized for RAID-6, and Liberation coding. The documentation provides some tutorial material on matrix and bit-matrix based erasure coding.

I met the good doctor at FAST, where he was delighted to find that Clevesafe – also a FAST presenter – was using techniques he’d worked on a decade ago.

The StorageMojo take
I’m impressed with what Cleversafe has done. They will look even smarter after EMC’s Hulk/Maui announcement this spring. I suspect they’ll be bought by year’s end.

Kudos to the Cleversafe team.

Comments welcome, of course.