Update: NSA surveillance, Bitcoin, cloud storage

Just last month, Edward Snowden was honored with our first annual Wild Duck Privacy Award (we hope that he considers it an honor). The vigorous debate ignited by his revelations extend to the US Congress, which just voted on a defense spending bill Edward Snowdento  defund a massive NSA domestic spying program at the center of the controversy.

Although the bill was narrowly defeated, it is clear that Snowden has played a critical role in deliberative policy legislation at the highest level of a representative government. Even if this is the only fact in his defense, why then – we wonder, is Snowden a fugitive who must fear for his life and his freedom?

Snowden saw an injustice and acted to right a wrong. His error was to rely solely on his own judgment and take matters into his own hands, without deliberative process or oversight. But since it is the lack of these very same protective mechanisms for which he engaged in conscientious objection, the ethical dilemma presented a Catch 22.

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Stacks of BitcoinRegular readers know that we love Bitcoin. We covered the stateless currency in 2011 and 2013. Just as the internet decentralizes publishing and influence peddling, some day soon, Bitcoin will decentralize world monetary systems by obliterating the role of govern-ments and banks in the control of money flow and savings. Why? Because math is more trustworthy than financial institutions and geopolitics. You needn’t be an anarchist to appreciate the benefits of a currency that is immune from political influence, inflation, and the potential for manipulation.

Now, comes word of a Texas man charged with running a $60 million Bitcoin Ponzi scheme. The story is notable simply because it is the first skullduggery aimed at the virtual currency — other than internet hacking or other attacks on the still fragile infrastructure. Should we worry. Absolutely not. This story has little to do with Bitcoin and falls squarely under the category of Caveat Emptor. Widows and orphans beware!

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bitcasa-sIn February, we wrote about Bitcasa, the upstart cloud storage service with an edge over diver-sified competitors and other entrenched players: Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, SugarSync, Apple iCloud, etc. WildDucks learned how to get truly unlimited cloud storage for just $49. Now they are launching unlimited cloud storage in Europe starting at €60 per year.

Bitcasa still captures our attention and sets our pulse racing. While we are disappointed that it lacks the RDDC architecture that will eventually rule the roost, their Infinite Drive technology is a barn burner. More than ever, it is clear that Bitcasa is likely to displace or be acquired by their better known brethren.

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Drew Houston-01sWe also wrote about Dropbox, but that posting wasn’t really a review. It was our plea to CEO, Drew Houston (shown at left), to adopt a fully distributed and reverse cloud architecture. That effort failed, but it is still our favorite of the entrenched players. More suited to pin stripe corporate adoption, but in our opinion, not quite a Bitcasa.

In a previous article, we introduced lesser known cloud startups with clever and unique architect-ture that yield subtle benefits: SpaceMonkey, Symform and Digital Lifeboat. That last one was in need of a life preserver. It flopped. But the IP that they created in the area of distributed p2p storage management will live on. We will all benefit.

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Stream Music Flowchart-s2Finally, in May we ran down the benefits of cloud music players and their likely future of streaming your own personal library of movies. Now, Jeff Somogyi at Dealnews has created a nifty flowchart to help you decide among many vendors in a crowded market.

Of course, a discussion of Bitcasa, Dropbox, SpaceMonkey and RDDC wasn’t our first discussion of cloud storage. Shortly after AWildDuck launched back in 2011, we applauded PogoPlug and their ilk (Tonidoplug, Dreamplug, Shiva, and other genres consumer grade network attached storage with internet access. They let you create personal cloud services and even stream media from a drive or RAID storage device attached to your home router.

 

Awash in cash, does Dropbox sense the undertow?

Dropbox CEO, Drew Houston, is about to facilitate a meaningful donation to his favorite cause, but he doesn’t know it yet. More about this in the last paragraph…

Dropbox is in an enviable position. The company is smokin! It’s so hot, that Forbes magazine calls it Tech’s Hottest Startup. So hot, that Steve Jobs tried to acquire it. So hot, that when anointed by the MacMeister with a personal audience, 28-year-old founder Drew Houston snubbed his proverbial nose at the offer. *

Dropbox: Atop it’s game…  But what about Future Shock?

What does Dropbox sell?
Dropbox sells cloud storage services, including backup, synchronization and file distribution. They are arguably king the market leader, but they have plenty of competition: Apple’s new iCloud, SugarSync, SkyDrive (Microsoft), LiveDrive, Google Docs, Box.net, FolderShare and a growing list of wannabees. Without getting into the nitty-gritty, let’s just say that if you’re not using Dropbox or a similar service now, you will do so soon.

What can cloud storage do for me?
You are probably familiar with Carbonite and Mozy. These vendors market clouds as safety nets, constantly backing up your PC over the internet, as you work. On the other hand, Google Docs makes collaboration easier and more efficient because users spread far apart can work on the same document at the same time – and without worrying about who has the latest version. These are all ancillary benefits of cloud computing at best. Since the concept is still in its infancy, they focus on a simple and easily digestible pitch.

But clouds offer much more! With data in the cloud, documents, photos and music are always available, backed up, in sync and safe – no matter where you travel or what gadget is handy. Files don’t depend on equipment that you own or carry, so you can travel light and with constant access to your business, media and memories. Much as predicted by Asimov in The Last Question, using a personal data cloud is like having your brain in ever-present hyperspace.

Dropbox is the convergence leader. What’s wrong with that?
When startups reach a phase that I call investor frenzy, founders and early investors inevitably get the “not invented here” bug, or the “we are obviously doing it right” bug. But smart directors swat away cocky bugs of success until the company reaches the profit phase and, of course, the ROI phase. They also keep a keen eye on competitors and even tiny startups to see if someone has come up with a startling new way to improve service, boost revenue or reduce expenses.

What’s new in cloud technology?
“What’s New” is a tectonic shift in technology from centralized, data center storage to distributed peer storage. It’s a dramatic architectural enhancement that I call Ellery’s Reverse Distributed Data cloud [RDDC]. While I can’t take the credit for all that is about to unfold, I was first to propose it three years ago. This past August, I blogged about the concept at AWildDuck.

RDDC changes dynamics of everything that matters in storage: cost, security and speed and even environmental impact – all in the right direction. As each user adds inexpensive storage to their own home or business network (the same drives that they previously used to store their working data or backups), a central “traffic cop” uses this worldwide, massively redundant, distributed storage network as if it were a “RAID-10,000” drive array. The Result: As long as 33% of users don’t turn off their storage devices at the same time, everyone’s data is available instantly, securely and without risk of errors or hacks.

Incredible? You Bet! Want more? Of course!
Consider the return data throughput. That’s the rate at which downloads from these many different storage drives arrive into your PC when restoring a backup or even when using a global cloud array as your main drive. You might think that spreading your data, bytewise across lots of slow uplinks would result in data recovery at a snail’s pace. You would be wrong. Even the programmers who understand the math are astounded at the RDT. Even if many drives in your personal cloud are heavily fragmented or poke along at the 3rd tier connection speed of a rural carrier, incoming throughput sizzles at blistering, heart-pounding speed. Why? Because inbound data is staged in the cloud as a torrent from a massively parallel cluster – and not as a serial stream from one peer.

There’s more. While all of this is happening the uplink channel is not idle. Your global cloud array dispatches data around the world with predictive caching, based on new research into the distribution of media across disparate platforms.

Should I Care?
While the architecture of remote storage may seem a geeky detail, the fallout is a litany of benefits to users and a massive windfall for the first provider’s to get with the program. They will enjoy a 90% reduction in operational expenses, while customers experience a blistering bump in speed and meaningful intangibles like fault tolerance associated with massive redundancy.

What vendors are rolling out this new technology?
Symform is already offering RDDC. SpaceMonkey has not yet announced, but it’s two founders in Salt Lake City (both from EMC) have an even more compelling model. They’re lining up investors now. They get it and the angels are starting to take notice!

These tiny startups and a few others have a big edge on their well-funded brethren, because they are already on top of RDDC. If the challenge is not rapidly met by Dropbox and SugarSync, the new kids will sweep the market.

What’s the risk to the established players? Will they catch up?
Cloud computing for the masses is rapidly becoming a crowded market. Massive consolidation will come in a year. Only a few companies will be left standing. Most of the names entering the market today, and even some established brands won’t survive nor even be acquired. They’ll just die. A few fortunate startups will cash out, because of their early implementation of RDDC. My bet is with cloud providers that move quickly into massively distributed data clouds. They will be healthy and profitable. If Dropbox gets it and moves quickly to seize the day, they will very likely come out on top.

Drew Houston: In the catbird seat, but for how long?

Does Drew know about RDDC?
He might. More likely, he considered it briefly and then dismissed it. Even a bright individual can overlook an elegant solution to an unrecognized problem. (i.e. reducing expenses dramatically while boosting data security).

It’s a safe bet that Carbonite and Mozy can’t implement RDDC in time to save their hides. One is too narrowly focused on marketing themselves as a backup service and the other is married to data centers that they own.

Perhaps Dropbox “gets it” and needs no input from their biggest fan. But perhaps – just perhaps mind you – they have yet to design a fully holographic RAID-10K algorithm. Perhaps they have not yet optimized predictive caching for peer distributed networks. Perhaps they are not equipped to quickly build a torrent reacquisition mechanism on the fly and activate it safely across thousands of peers with disparate upload and download speeds, while each user powers down storage media every day without notice.

What’s the ‘R’ stand for in “RDDC”?
It stands for “Reverse”. This teaser lacks an explanation by design. If Drew or his deputies at Dropbox contact me, I wish to give them an edge. It’s one of the few aspects of an ideal architecture model that has not yet been exploited by any startup.

If Dropbox knows about RDDC, what is the purpose of this blog?
Finally an easy question! Drew Houston may or may not be contemplating a Dropbox implementation of RDDC. But even if he is shoe-horning it into his ops plan right now, the purpose of this Blog is to get his attention. Dropbox understands the business of cloud computing. Yours truly understands the seismic benefits of Reverse Distributed Data Clouds and has the business and engineering experience to jump start a rapidly growing market leader. Your humble editor is itching to help a cloud sync startup beat Apple, Google, EMC and Amazon and dominate the market before the average Joe adopts RDDC from your daddy’s generation.

Tech & investment communities know Ellery by another name
I have never kept it a secret that Ellery is a pen name. I use it here at AWildDuck and for articles that I freelance to Google, c|net, Engadget, Yahoo & Amazon. My general vitae is posted to this blog and of course, Drew Houston will get all of my contact info.

Got your ears on, Drew? I get it. Years ago, I created the blueprint. I tested architectural dynamics before your competitors got off the ground. Together, we can dramatically reduce costs while creating the most robust swarm on earth. Together, we can sew up a new paradigm before others learn to tie their shoes. Reach to me, Drew. I’ll give 5 hours to your favorite cause for 5 minutes of your time. Nothing to lose and either way, you gain! Your move.

* To be fair, Drew admits that Jobs is his idol and a scion of high tech entrepreneurship!

Reverse Distributed Cloud: New way to backup & access data

In the past, you had several options for data backup—all quite boring, because they did nothing to make your data more accessible as you moved about your life (on those private jets, yachts and islands that we all own). And they certainly did nothing for cross-platform interoperability. That didn’t even factor into your purchasing decision, right? You simply backed up to a locally attached drive, a network server, or even to a remote service. When you lost data, you restored from the same device or server. What more do you need?

In the past year, a new data backup model has evolved: Backing up ‘to the cloud’. For most of us, this phrase simply means moving data or accessing apps that are stored remotely and managed by a service provider rather than accessed from a local drive or attached device. A key benefit, of course, is discipline. If a professional organization stores our data, it may not be as secure, but (we assume that) it darn well better be backed up continuously. Sooner or later–depending upon how much Wild Duck blood runs your veins–you will probably try it. But I submit to you that it can be improved significantly. The improvements will be achieved by the first party to reverse the model! (Are we Intrigued yet?!)

But consider this: What exactly are you backing up? I don’t mean What as in “What content”: Work documents, photos, tax returns, or movies of Aunt Betsy removing her first bunion. Rather, I mean From What. I suspect the question seems silly. You’re backing up local data–The stuff that is stored on your notebook, desktop PC, or handheld device. 1

Of course, the market is already gravitating toward cloud backup solutions like Carbonite, Mozy, virtual drives like DropBox, and access anywhere solutions like SugarSync. (Hint: These services are adept at slightly different user benefits. More about this later). Let’s take Carbonite for example. The Boston based company had an IPO just this past week. For a very modest cost, Carbonite continuously backs up your PC data over the Internet, even as you work and surf. Cool! If you accidentally delete a file, lose your PC, or even if you are simply far from your PC, you can recover whatever files you need.

With a little creativity, there are clever things you can do with cloud storage. In 2007, Katherine Boehret 2 was fascinated by a tiny startup called TubesNow. During the very brief time that the company existed (they closed during the same year), It worked like this: For each friend in your personal TubesNow community, you configured a desktop icon that looks like the end of a pneumatic tube. 3 Then, simply drag and drop files & photos onto any of your Tubes. A weird sucking sound told you that the photo was being whisked through a “tube” onto your friends desktop or into the folder shared with selected friends. Pretty cool. But even so, the company that offered TubesNow closed up during the same year. So did Xdrive, another drive-in-the-sky provider.

Coolness aside, the problem with all these cloud storage and sync solutions, is that they can only do one major task with fluid transparency. Either backing up your data, syncing data, sharing data, or accessing data from different devices. With a few tweaks, we can describe a simple architectural modification that inherently yields all four  benefits. Most importantly, it vastly increases security and privacy, and especially, redundancy.

Intrigued? I hope so. It’s unlikely that I will receive a patent on this idea (I am at the provisional stage). But I certainly hope to be known as the pundit who first described it in sufficient detail to spark widespread development by entrepreneurs.

October 2011 Update: Several start ups (or service reincarnations) are beginning to do what I will describe in Part 2. Symform & SpaceMonkey definitely get it! Symform is perhaps closest to the ideal model described here.

I call this model, Ellery’s Reverse Distributed Data Cloud (RDDC). Stay tuned. In the next few weeks, I will cover the “reverse” idea and then the “distributed” part. For nerds who just can’t wait (I should be so luckily), review my personal crib sheet. It’s a tiny bookmark-size strip of notes from which I will craft the next installments on this topic.

– Ellery Davies
Feedback is always welcome.
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1 Let’s please agree to stop calling portable, connected devices “handheld devices. Just call it a phone. After all, Palm is dead, Blackberry is a phone, and both have been usurped by Android and iPhone. For all intents and purposes, when considering the universe of portable and connected mobile devices, Android and Apple are the only two left standing!

2 Walt Mossberg is an editor at both The Wall Street Journal and All Things Digital. In Oct 2007, his colleague, Katherine Boehret featured TubesNow in the Personal Technology column of The Wall Street Journal and at All Things Digital.

3 A pneumatic tube is the suction device used in the drive-thru lane of some banks and pharmacies to move paper and pills between your car and the window clerk. In the 20th century, it was widely used in businesses, stores and warehouses to move all sorts of things, but mostly to move written information. That’s why you don’t see them anymore. Today, information travels electronically and very often, it needs to move beyond a big building.