Making the Cloud Greener

Every once in a while, we’re asked about the cloud, cloud computing, or the “true cloud“.  Most often, that question is along the lines of, “What IS the cloud?”  And so we explain:  Generally companies who are using cloud-based software are using one, centralized storage space.  This coordinated storage space, is generally housed in physical servers, which take money to own and operate, energy to power, and safeguards that work towards keeping your data safe.  Of course, physical servers – like any computer – are prone to viruses, power outages, hacking attempts, memory loss, and more.

So then we go on to explain about our cloud – how we’ve built an infrastructure for storage without the need for physical space or servers.  We’ve started using a phrase that says it all – “With Digital Lifeboat, YOU are the cloud”.

And sometimes, some wiseguy will ask, “Well, why would I want to be the cloud?”

Why?  Well, for one thing, our online data backups are greener than traditional data storage options.  Digital Lifeboat stores super-encrypted fragments of your files across an array of computers in the cloud.  Our community of PCs don't require the massive energy drain to both run and cool a data center.  By using the open hard drive space of our member's PCs, our members are the cloud.  They benefit from unlimited backup space.  They benefit from our cloud’s self-healing properties which automatically makes room for the file space they need.  The environment wins with the most ecologically friendly backup on the planet.

Did you know that in 2008, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories and Stanford University teamed up on a study, showing that data centers represent about 1% of the world’s electricity consumption.  That’s huge!

The study says:

“[The growth rate of electricity consumed is approximately] 16.7% per year for the world. About 80% of this growth is attributable to growth in electricity used by servers (almost entirely volume servers), with 10% of growth in electricity use associated with data center communications and about the same percentage for storage equipment. The overall increase in server electricity use is driven almost entirely by the increase in the number of volume servers….”

Of course, later research showed that energy consumption was less than expected, but 1% of total world energy consumption is STILL huge!  In industry that’s used to massive amounts of energy consumption – the way data centers are – it was important for us to find a solution to storing our users’ data, with as little impact on the environment as possible.  So we set out to do the right thing – with the help of our users, we built an online file storage system that is greener than traditional data centers.  So our users know that every time they open the lid on their laptop and hit the power button, they’re helping to save our planet – a little bit at a time.

Why should you want to be the cloud?  If you own a computer, you probably want to ensure that your data is safe.  And if you’re at all like us, you probably want to keep your planet safe.  So it makes sense to stick with a “greener” cloud, like the true cloud online backup system from Digital Lifeboat.

Digital Lifeboat: Your Digital Insurance Policy

Digital Lifeboat for anybody who uses a PC for work, to store photos and music, to watch  movies, or for school – with the idea that those people need a way to protect their valuable files. We’ve created a software service that protects your “digital treasures”, is easy to use, and that “just works”.

Our founders have an extraordinary amount of experience with “data centers”.   We understand the time, effort, and cost of building data centers and keeping files safe.   We know the ins and outs – their significant security and operational risks.  This is how we came to be Digital Lifeboat - a distributive storage model for online backup and recovery.

As our lives become more digital, and as we store more of our memories, our finances, our entertainment, and our work life on our computers, we need a digital insurance policy.  We want to protect those files, make sure those files are constantly accessible, and most importantly, we understand the need to restore lost or deleted files.  As simple as that sounds, what we do is very complicated; our solution is an entirely new mode of distributed storage cloud service.  Digital Lifeboat software compresses and encrypts each file selected for backup. We then process these encrypted files with an Erasure Coding algorithm that disassembles files into fragments. Once these fragments are ready for transfer into the Digital Lifeboat Cloud, we securely send and store each of them outside of your home on different computers, web-wide. These encrypted, erasure coded, fragments are invisible on their storage hosts.

That means that we do store encrypted, erasure coded, fragments on your PC  - in the same way your files are being stored, you are hosting files from other members of the Digital Lifeboat cloud.  These fragments are invisible to your computer, which operates as if they aren’t there.  When you add more data to your hard drive, the fragments are automatically erased – making more room for your valuable files.  Our service is self-healing and self-managing.  Those erased fragments are distributed on other parts of the Digital Lifeboat Cloud. We only use a fraction of your free disk space, but you are never prohibited from adding more data to your hard drive; your system does not recognize the data we store, and you don’t have to manage it in any way.  In this way, you are the cloud.

Digital Lifeboat is like an insurance policy for your digital life. We are there when you need us, and we are continuously working around the clock to make the entire process easy – from installing our software, through the backup process, and of course the most valuable service of all: recovering your data.

Capex vs. Opex – The Costs of Storing Your Data

One of the great debates in cloud computing involves business economics and the inherent expense that stocking and running a data center entails.  You may even hear the phrase “Capex vs Opex” in this debate.  This phrase refers to the trade-offs of investing in building and operating your own data center (Capital Expenditure and Operating Expenditure) versus using someone else's data center (Operating Expenditure) on a pay-as-you-go or rental model.

It’s important to consider the financial implications of both approaches in the long run – especially since “renting” costs less in the short term, but the investments in data centers will ultimately be passed on to the end users, making that approach more expensive.

Owning and stocking a physical data center requires capital expenditure (Capex), large amounts of space filled with computer hardware, and the cash flow to pay the power bill.  Many “cloud-based” data centers, like Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) or iCloud, still rely on physical servers to store data – using the extra server space from other operations.  This artificial “cloud” allows users to access programs and data as a “virtual instance” on physical servers.  Thus Amazon rents space to businesses like Dropbox; but it is still expensive.  Dropbox may not have to invest in creating their own their data center, but they pay a higher operational cost than someone like Carbonite who built their own data center.

The Capex Vs. Opex debate is really a debate on “owning versus renting”.  Either option still has two big issues – they use massive amounts of global energy to run and to cool, and data centers are still subject to the possibility of server outages.

An article from CIO.com highlights some of the cost  issues of owning and operating servers:

  1.  The direct costs that accompany running a server: power, floor space, storage, and IT operations to manage those resources.
  2.  The indirect costs of running a server: network and storage infrastructure and IT operations to manage the general infrastructure.
  3.  The overhead costs of owning a server: procurement and accounting personnel, not to mention a critical resource in short supply: IT management and its attention.

Of course, neither side of this debate takes into account the “true cloud”.

What is “true cloud?”

Even though Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud is called a” cloud”, Amazon still has to host a warehouse of servers to make their “cloud” available to users.  This will always be more costly than using a true cloud service.  In fact, Amazon’s “cloud” is no more than a marketing term, considering the need for a traditional data center to hold their “elastic” storage. For a service to be hosted on a “true cloud”, the architects would have to eliminate the need for large, costly datacenters, completely.

The Digital Lifeboat model is based on a highly secure peer-to-peer “true cloud” – which doesn’t require a data center and the accompanying computer hardware, floor space, and extra power.  This keeps our overhead low so that our service costs less than our competitors. In addition, Digital Lifeboat requires less computer hardware and less energy which makes our company greener than if we were to house your data in a large data center.

We’ve pioneered a method of cloud-based file storage that’s automatic and continuous; self-managing and self-healing – all without a datacenter.  That’s the “true cloud”; that’s Digital Lifeboat’s online backup and recovery service.

For extra reading, check out this interesting Money Magazine article on cloud security.

Hacking the Cloud: When Your Data ISN’T Safe…

If you’re a Play Station “fan boy” (or girl), you probably received an email from Sony offering you free games (in exchange for something about account security).  The PlayStation Network shut down it’s cloud after “an external intrusion” that resulted in the theft of personal information belonging to 77 million customers.  In fact, PSN said they’re moving their network infrastructure and data center to a new, more secure location.

Or, you might remember when Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud and Elastic Block Storage platforms were offline during an April 21 outage that had major websites unavailable for three days.

Outages and security breaches like these have inspired fear that the Cloud may not be secure – or is less secure than a traditional data center; however, eWeek.com points out that major security holes are not unique to cloud services.  PSN uses both cloud services and traditional data centers.  Amazon's outage drew attention to data availability issues and reliability.  Security concerns exist in both cloud and traditional data center environments.  Cloud security is not inferior to data center security, where information can be accessed by a slew of hacking techniques.

eWeek adds, “People generally [haven't heard] about outages in [traditional] data centers because they affected only one organization and were smaller scale, but they often add up to far more lost time, money and business…”

The problem traces back to encryption.  EVERYTHING should be encrypted in both traditional data centers and on the cloud, from network traffic to S3 storage to file systems.  And the sensitive data?  That information should be especially encrypted.  The tools are out there, but companies might not realize just how secure their data needs to be.  An article by George Reese on the O’Reilly community adds:

“You should create a security system with the assumption that someone will gain unintended access to your data. It’s not that the cloud makes it more or less likely; it’s simply that a) there are attack vectors in the cloud that you have less control over and b) it’s a good idea anyways.”