Startup launches cloud storage co-op

Symform's Cooperative Storage Cloud service uses spare disk drive capacity of small and medium-size businesses to create a collective pool of storage shared by all participants.


A startup company founded by former Microsoft and Amazon engineers is launching a distributed cloud storage service that uses the spare disk drive capacity in the back offices of small and medium-size businesses to create a collective pool of storage shared by all participants.

Symform's Cooperative Storage Cloud service is being touted mainly as a technology for resellers, who will pay $15 a month for unlimited capacity and can then offer it to customers as an off-site disaster recovery backup service.

Customers in the network contribute unused server space equal to the amount they consume in the storage cloud. Symform handles the day-to-day management of network security and administration of the storage cloud. Users can keep using their favorite local backup software and Symform automatically adds off-site storage and disaster recovery to their backup files.

The concept of a distributed and disparate storage cloud is not new. For example, the University of California's OceanStore project was based on the concept that information could be broken down into many parts, assigned a unique metadata identification tag, encrypted and then randomly stored on systems throughout the world. MIT has a similar project, called Chord, in beta.

What is different about Symform's concept is the business model -- using small and midsize companies' spare capacity to keep the costs down -- and the fact that there are no other services offering a disparate, yet cooperative, data storage cloud today.

Symform's vice president of sales and marketing, Kevin Brown, pointed out that a terabyte of storage capacity is relatively cheap today, less than $100 on average. Backing up data securely, either in an off-site data center or through an off-site hosted-storage service, costs about 20 times more than local direct-attached storage.

"While a terabyte is a lot of storage for just about any application, when you go to back it up, it costs you 50 cents or more a gigabyte. That's $500 a month for a terabyte, and it's a subscription service that never goes away," Brown said.

Symform's business model reduces the cost of backups dramatically, according to Brown, so that a business currently paying $500 a month to back up a terabyte of data would only pay about $50. "That's a pretty attractive business model."

According to most IT research firms, businesses only utilize, at most, about 40% of their disk drive capacity. Overallocating storage for applications is common. "A business's Internet service is always on. They have power on usually on 24/7. They pay for the real estate to house this unused storage and have all this excess capacity," Brown said. "At night and weekends, all that capacity is still being paid for."

Seattle-based Symform has 200 resellers as beta customers, according to Brown. The beta customers are mostly IT service providers who sell the capacity as part of their offerings.

Brown believes pricing for unlimited capacity from resellers will likely be in the $30-to-$50-per-month range for a server and $5-to-$8-per-month for a desktop, but resellers are free to set their own prices.

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