Backup goes peer-to-peer

Unlike Mozy et al, Symform is farm-free – it uses peer-to-peer technology to store backups on the PCs of other Symform users.

I’m still in the audience at the DEMOFall conference, and still taking in demonstrations of new products and services. One of the cooler ideas this morning is Symform, a small-business remote-backup service. Technically, it’s utterly unlike services such as Mozy and Carbonite: Those services store everything in massive server farms, but Symform is farm-free–it uses peer-to-peer technology to store backups on the PCs of other Symform users. If you wanna back up 10GB of data, for instance, you agree to devote 10GB of disk space to other folks’ backups–and to leave your computer on 80 percent of the time.

Does that sound like it involves big questions about availability and security? Well, a lot of obstacles leaped to mind as I heard the Symform people explain what they’d come up with. But they say that they break everything up into tiny chunks, encrypt it, and distribute it among multiple computers in a redundant fashion–in theory, at least, your data will be protected from snooping eyes (such as those of the people whose computers store it) and will be there when you need it. It’s kind of like a private, secure BitTorrent for your own data; I’m still wrestling with the whole concept of storing confidential data on the computers of random strangers, but it’s an interesting idea on a technical level. (Symform is pitching it as, among other things, a greener approach to disaster recovery–those massive server farms cost a fortune to build, and consume massive amounts of energy.)

Symform is aiming its service at small businesses, and plans to sell it through the independent IT professionals who small companies tend to call on for help; it’ll charge the IT pros about $15 per month, and let them decide how much they charge their customers. At the moment it’s for Windows users only, but the company says it hopes to release a Mac version at some point.

So would you trust your data to a peer-to-peer network?

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Harry McCracken

PC World (US online)
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