In the IT community I wonder if there is anyone who hasn’t at least tried out (if not heavily used) Dropbox, Box, Google Drive or one of the many other “sync-n-share” cloud storage offerings. As a refresher for those of us familiar (or new information for those not aware), cloud-based storage solutions provide the ability to store unstructured (file) data in the cloud, retaining a copy on one or more Internet connected devices, while managing the process of synchronising updates across all connected machines. Dropbox and other services have become ubiquitous in their use for a number of reasons:
- They are relatively cheap. For most home users the 2GB free option (Dropbox) is extremely attractive; a Forbes article from 2011 indicated that 96% of all users take the free option and only 4% of users are paying customers. Even the 1TB service at £7.99/month (UK) seems OK.
- They directly integrate into the file manager. To make life easier, Dropbox and other services offer direct integration into the file manager, allowing cloud-synced files to be managed as if they were on the local machine (which of course they are, but at the same time they are monitored/managed)
- They are easy to use. Here’s the kicker, these services become almost transparent once they are used. The synchronisation is quick and efficient (usually) and features make it easy to share files and folders with other users.
However, there are a number of drawbacks;
- Your data is accessible by the providers of these services. Initially many offerings didn’t even encrypt data at rest in their data centres. Very few offerings provide you the ability to manage your own encryption keys, mainly because it’s a hassle and consumers either don’t understand or don’t want to do it. This isn’t the case for businesses of course.
- Your data is accessible by people you would rather didn’t. This covers two areas; hackers (it has happened multiple times) and governments (even outside their apparent jurisdiction).
- There are feature gaps in many solutions. Dropbox for example allows shared files/folders to be deleted by other users; not all offerings integrate into Active Directory for centralised security, or provide a “kill switch” to wipe data on portable devices.
- There’s an ongoing charge for storage, even if you’re not using the step-level capacity; e.g. you pay for 1TB even if you have 50MB in use. Looked at as a monthly charge, this can make the service many times more expensive than it appears, when measured on a $/GB level.
Now all of this is fine if you’re prepared to accept the highlighted risks and for many consumers they will be OK with continuing to use cloud-based services. However for some individuals and especially for corporations that want to have more control over their data while still maintaining the benefits, what are the alternatives? Well, Storage Field Day 7 presenter Connected Data has a potential solution called the Transporter.
At this point it is worth highlighting who Connected Data are – they are the company that acquired Data Robotics, the company that brought us the Drobo, both companies being founded by Geoff Barrall.
The Transporter is storage appliance that acts like a SOHO (small office/home office) NAS device. The consumer model looks rather like a cone and is designed to accommodate a single 2.5″ drive, which today means up to 2TB of capacity. The initial observation will be to question why Transporter (consumer version) supports only a single HDD as this would provide no data protection capability. This is where the Transporter diverges from traditional NAS and starts to provide a Dropbox-like experience. Rather than offer cloud-based storage, Connected Data enables customers to connect their Transporters to home or office Internet routers and access their data remotely, or on a local network. Like Dropbox, Transporter caches a copy of data on the local device immediately providing two copies of the data, or more if there are other devices in use. Local caching is achieved through software deployed on the device (currently Mac, Windows, iOS, Android and Kindle Fire). The ability to share/replicate data between transporters provides geographic resiliency for data.
The interesting point in the Transporter model is how devices are accessed and managed over the Internet when they are connected via users’ home routers. This is where cloud comes in. Connected Data maintains the service that manages the network connectivity information for all clients and targets (e.g. laptops and Transporter devices), but doesn’t hold any actual customer data. This is the key differentiator of the Transporter service. What’s more, from a cost perspective, a customer buys a Transporter and gets the cloud connectivity for free; there is no monthly charge past the initial purchase.
The Architect’s View
The Transporter is a great idea that will see adoption by companies, organisations and individuals that are keen to manage the privacy of their own data. Examples include legal firms and financial organisations. However it’s unlikely many corporations will use the Transporter Personal device and so Connected Data provide four options; there are models 15 & 30 (both desktop), which add in RAID redundancy and models 75 and 150 that provide rack mount capability with redundant power and cooling. Business systems integrate with Active Directory and provide extra capabilities like group management administration. The delivery of these product form factors is where we see why the merger of Drobo and Connected Data made sense. A key success factor for Connected Data will be in delivering a user experience as seamless as Dropbox does; if they do that, then the Business models could prove very attractive indeed.
Two videos are available from SFD7 covering our time at Connected Data. They can be found here: Connected Data presents at SFD7.
- Dropbox: The Inside Story of Tech’s Hottest Startup (Forbes Website)
- Dropbox Confirms Security Breach (Information Age Website)
- US Court orders Microsoft to hand over personal data from Irish Server (Guardian Website)
- Storage Field Day 7 (Tech Field Day Website)
Comments are always welcome; please read our Comments Policy first. If you have any related links of interest, please feel free to add them as a comment for consideration.
Disclaimer: I was personally invited to attend Storage Field Day 7, with the event team covering my travel and accommodation costs. However I was not compensated for my time. I am not required to blog on any content; blog posts are not edited or reviewed by the presenters or Tech Field Day team before publication. Connected Data provided all SFD7 attendees with a complimentary Transporter Personal device.
Copyright (c) 2009-2015 – Chris M Evans, first published on http://blog.architecting.it, do not reproduce without permission.