September 20, 2004

Bob Cringely proposes mutual insurance for data

Security By: ams

I found this idea a compelling illustration of decentralization because it highlights that there can be *more* trust in a hydra-headed system run by the masses than a single-point-of-Google. Of course, the storage ratio should probably be 1:10 — meaning each byte could be backed up to 10 random machines to ensure that some of them are back online when you need it.

The party-pooper aspect is that asymettric upload/dowload links like DSL means it takes much longer to push *or* pull more data. But then again, he’s right to focus on backup, rather than interactive storage.

Another aspect of the solution is better metadata management — you don’t need to keep three copies of a digital photo, you just need to keep in touch with the three relatives you already mailed a copy to and the website that’s hosting your notes. In other words, most of the time, The Data’s Already Out There…

PBS | I, Cringely . Archived Column


That $3.95 per month fee covers any amount of storage the user wants, limited only by how much storage they are WILLING TO DONATE TO THE SYSTEM. Think of this as an alternate and quite a bit more sophisticated Napster. First, it is for BACKUP, so recovery has to be slow enough so people won’t think of it as another hard drive. Baxter is data insurance and nothing more. It’s a RAID system using donated disk space on a wide area network. Your data is compressed, then cut into chunks, and those chunks are distributed to dozens of places with enough forward error correction thrown in to cover any storage that is lost or happens to be down when recovery is needed. The data is both encrypted (on the customer end, so unencrypted data never enters the system and that vulnerability is eliminated) and split into chunks so no one person has enough to make any sense of it even if they could decrypt it. The Baxter business provides client software, handles divvying-up the RAID information, and keeps track of what chunks go where.

Even though it is Napster-like in that it knows where all the chunks are, Baxter doesn’t know what the chunks are, nor is the end-user in a position to use it as a Napster-like system for music sharing, since data recovery is deliberately slow…

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