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.

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.