Cleversafe launched in 2008, positioning its platform as a foundation for cloud storage services. Cleversafe president and CEO Chris Gladwin said the new version is an extensive revision of the software, and was three years in the making. "Cleversafe 2.0 completes our security model," he said.
Cleversafe has always claimed that its use of erasure codes, which split data into a user-determined number of chunks that can't be individually read, is inherently secure, but Cleversafe 2.0's security updates include a new certificate authority for the Slicestor, Accesser and Manager appliances that make up what Cleversafe calls a Dispersed Storage Network (dsNet). These certificates are designed to prevent the spoofing of an appliance to gain unauthorized access to a dsNet.
Cleversafe has seen traction in government accounts, Gladwin said, which may use authentication systems made by third parties such as biometric scanners. Cleversafe 2.0 includes interfaces for such third-party authentication systems.
The new version of the appliance also adds a DNS-like registry within Cleversafe's Manager software; with this separate authority tracking data placement on back-end disk, Gladwin said, the software has become more flexible for storage provisioning. "Previously, we had a very rigid, hard-coded system of provisioning," Gladwin said.
This registry allows nondisruptive, rolling software upgrades so the system no longer has to be taken offline for these upgrades. Gladwin said the registry will also allow objects to be moved more easily within the Cleversafe namespace and improve scalability.
Cleversafe 2.0 also adds a "completely virtualized namespace," Gladwin said, "so there is no limit on the scale or performance of a dsNet." It will also mean that the two flavors of Slicestor — a block-based version and an object-based version — can share the same network, though the different interfaces can't be used to simultaneously access the same data.
Other new features have been added around performance and data integrity within the system. Cleversafe previously offered a feature called PerfectBits that would perform integrity checks on data as it was read. PerfectBits has now been extended as a background process for continual data scrubbing, a move Cleversafe claims will improve overall system performance by eliminating the integrity check step that used to accompany each read.
Because finding bad blocks on read might mean Cleversafe has to go back and look for slices of data on nodes that may be geographically distributed over distance -- which slows performance -- the new software will now perform what Gladwin termed "optimistic writes" and "pessimistic reads." If data is sliced 16 times and 10 nodes are required to rebuild an object, for example, the system will attempt to write to all 16 nodes.
"If all the threads finish, great; if not, the background integrity check will fill them in later," he said.
Pessimistic reads mean that rather than requesting slices from 10 nodes and "hoping all 10 are available," the read process will select 11 or 12 nodes to read from, and then "move on" after it gets 10.
Gladwin said the company is still measuring the performance improvements these updates will yield, but in preliminary testing optimistic writes have yielded a 7x improvement in write performance. He estimates that reads "under some conditions" could improve by two or three times their current levels.
Cleversafe welcomes competition with EMC Atmos
Gladwin did not disclose how many customers Cleversafe has, but said the company has seen more activity in the first three months of 2010 than it saw in 2009, with most of the interest in government accounts.
He added that part of the interest has been driven by EMC Corp., which competes against Cleversafe with its EMC Atmos object-based storage.
"EMC Atmos has really helped us gain credibility," Gladwin said. "They've been out educating the market about things like erasure codes, and that makes people think 'Maybe this really is the next generation of storage.'"
Wikibon analyst David Vellante said the data security message Cleversafe has been pushing, which it calls SecureSlice, is among the more interesting parts of Cleversafe's story. "The whole notion of dispersal is very interesting, and this embedded encryption Cleversafe is enhancing is really nice because it deals with the worst part of encryption, which is key management," Vellante said. "The downside is Cleversafe is new and [sold by a] small [company], and Atmos is new and backed by EMC."
"You can always say that about a small company," countered John Webster, a senior partner at Evaluator Group Inc. He points out that while Cleversafe may not have the brand recognition of EMC, Cleversafe and its dsNet concept first emerged in 2006, two years before Atmos first hit the market.
"In the race to create a data abstraction layer, which the cloud storage market is all about, Cleversafe is the leader," Webster said.