Startup Ctera will offer cloud storage through carriers

Storage startup Ctera introduced a combined local and cloud storage system for service providers to sell as a service.

Startup storage vendor Ctera is looking to service-provider networks as the best place for home and small-business backup and will go through them to sell an appliance that combines local and cloud storage.

The company, based in Israel and Silicon Valley, this week will privately show off its first product at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Called the CloudPlug, it's a small embedded Linux appliance that sits between an external hard drive and a router to turn the drive into network-attached storage. The CloudPlug plugs directly into a wall socket and has a USB (Universal Serial Bus) port for attachment to an external hard drive and a Gigabit Ethernet port for connection to the router. Ctera also plans to sell appliances with hard drives built in. None will require users to load or maintain software on their PCs, said Ctera Founder and CEO Liran Eshel.

Ctera expects all of its products to be delivered by Internet service providers or managed service providers as part of monthly services rather than being sold. The services would include ongoing backup over the network, but all the data would still reside on a local drive and be available at LAN speeds, Eshel said. The appliance and backup service could take the place of a file server and tape backup system that would require some IT expertise to operate and maintain, Eshel said. These services should be available later this year, he said.

The company aims to take some complexity out of the "cloud storage" concept for the consumers or small businesses that would use it. All users will need to do is plug in the appliance, or attach it to an existing drive and set up the service via a Web interface. The on-site storage can be used both for regular local backups and for sharing files. The Ctera appliances will be managed over the network by the service provider, using a back-end product also provided by Ctera. The service provider could host the backup storage capacity itself or buy it from an online services company such as Amazon.com.

Eshel estimated the services would be sold for tens to hundreds of dollars per month, depending on capacity and WAN (wide-area network) speed. The company is approaching service providers around the world and believes its products will be most popular with carriers that offer very high-speed broadband services such as fiber to the home or DOCSIS 3.0, a fast cable technology. Eventually, Ctera may sell its technology for inclusion in other devices a carrier might offer, such as home gateways, Eshel said.

Ctera's approach differs from that of Mozy, the online backup company acquired in 2007 by EMC, in that it requires no PC software and includes both local and remote storage, Eshel said.

Some other cloud-storage vendors, including Seagate's i365, offer options that include on-site storage, said Henry Baltazar, an analyst at The 451 Group. But none has tailored this to the home and small-business market the way Ctera has, he added. Including on-site storage as well as a cloud backup allows users to back up and restore their data even when their network connection is down, which is an important safeguard, he said. Although cloud storage is emerging as the best approach for backup, providing greater flexibility than tape, it is not yet ideal for primary storage because of performance and availability concerns, Baltazar said.

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