Innovative Backup System Uses Unused Disk Space

StoreGrid uses extra space on small networks of computers to back up data from all computers on the network.

A small software developer in Chennai, India has come up with a unique twist on backup that just might give more expensive, established solutions a run for their money.

Vembu Technologies, a nascent backup and storage developer whose flagship product was formally introduced just a few months ago, may have hit a nerve with StoreGrid, a backup solution that uses extra space on small networks of computers to back up data from all computers on the network. The process, called peer-to-peer backup, allows small networks of desktop and notebook computers to take advantage of unused hard disk space.

"Everyone has a lot of space on their hard disks and typically use only about a quarter of that," said Lakshmanan Natayan, Vembus vice president of marketing. "So if you have five computers, each with a 40GB hard disk, there is 200GB of space on the network but 150GB of it is unutilized. That can be used as a grid for storing peoples data."

The idea is a good one, especially in the era of networked computers, said Robert Gray, research vice president for worldwide storage systems research at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC.

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"The drives that come with most computers are massively overserving what most people need. Wouldnt it be cool if all of this empty space on Computer A could back up its content automatically to Computer B and vice versa, and have that set the policies and have it be automatic?" he said. "One of the last things anyone wants to do is install yet another backup server and set up some sort of client/server software and become an administrator."

StoreGrid works with Windows, Linux, Macintosh and FreeBSD operating systems. Other features include encryption, configurable compression, server management and detailed reporting from an embedded SQL database.

The product is aimed at the small-to-medium-sized business market as well as home office users. In a client/server setup, SMBs and enterprise workgroups can use the technology to back up desktop data. Natayan said a number of systems integrators and VARs (value-added resellers), mainly online backup providers, also have begun asking about using the product to back up to their remote servers.

Vembus idea is particularly innovative because it acknowledges that most computer systems are no longer used in isolation, but part of a network, Gray said.

"The real opportunities over the next decade are about the glue that goes between intelligent boxes, and Vembu is one of the first that gets it," he said. "This is a fairly early example of something thats pretty smart."

As StoreGrids feature set grows, Natayan said the product may become too complex for the smallest end of the market —the home user. "Weve got things now like server-side administration that might intimidate the home user," he said. To address the needs of that market segment, Vembu plans to unveil a stripped-down version of the product, dubbed StoreGrid Diet, in about three months, Natayan said.

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