Web services meet storage as a service

Startup Nirvanix takes on Amazon S3, sets up shop with storage for rent

Are you ready for Internet storage? I mean, would you even consider tapping capacity that doesn't come from a pile of storage devices in your datacenter but instead originates somewhere in the cloud?

I wouldn't be surprised if your initial reaction to such questions is a dubious stare or a head-shaking denial. After all, we have been conditioned to nurture our own storage devices, and moving away from that path seems almost too risky to try.

For order entry, airline reservations, ATMs, or any other transactional environment involving a human being who expects predictable exchanges with subsecond response times, old-fashioned in-house storage is still the way to go. I wouldn't bet my reputation -- or my company's future -- on any other approach.

But for, say, delivering multimedia files to a variable number of users, spanning from a few hundred to more than a million in a short time, Internet storage could prove worthwhile.

Most organizations recognize that delivering a user-intensive service similar to Google's or Yahoo's but without their financial muscle is next to impossible. Moreover, designing the applications to support the service and then architecting a storage system that could instantly scale from supporting a few users to thousands or more is certainly more than most companies can handle.

Enter Amazon S3 -- and now Nirvanix, a startup that this week announced SDS (Storage Delivery Service), a competing solution that offers a fully fledged file system, the IMFS (Internet Media File System), among other differences with S3.

How far can IMFS expand? Into the quintillions -- in essence, to the exabyte range, virtually infinite for all practical purposes. With that kind of capacity, customers can count on having a single namespace regardless of how much space they require.

Using Nirvanix APIs, you can build applications that access or write files to your namespace. End-users who tap your application see only the application interface you provide and will remain oblivious to what's happening behind the scenes.

Which is a pity because what happens within the Nirvanix network is intriguing. Imagine a multitude of intelligent nodes -- an array of computers, each with limited capacity and processing power but capable of working as part of a team to deliver significantly worthwhile performance.

For example, if the requests to access a file on, say, node 1 exceed a certain threshold, the system automatically replicates the file onto one or more additional nodes to satisfy the demand. When demand for that file reduces, the system releases the additional copies and reuses the space. To ensure top performance, the system replicates files to a node as close as possible to the user.

A demonstration of a Nirvanix test account left me impressed. For an inside look at SDS, check out Nirvanix's Web site. Pricing and additional information about the system can be found there as well.

If Nirvanix delivers on its promise, its SDS system could prove an important first step in getting more organizations to think outside of the storage box.

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