Yottabytes: Storage and Disaster Recovery

March 19, 2012  12:14 AM

What SMB Data Backup and Rush Limbaugh Have in Common

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

It’s funny sometimes how a perfectly ordinary press release can have a lot more to it than appears at first.

Take Carbonite (NASDAQ:CARB). The company issued a press release a few days ago citing a study finding that many small businesses were using old, unreliable methods such as external hard disks, USB drives, and CD ROMs with which to back up their data. The report noted the following:

  • 50% use external hard drives, yet 20% backing up their business data indicated they started to do so because of a hard drive failure
  • 42% use USB/flash drives primarily because it is perceived as easy, yet only 6% believe USB/flash drives to actually be reliable
  • More than one-third use CDs/DVD drives to back up data, even though 62% feel they are inconvenient or risky
  • 21% of small businesses using online backup were using a free product; since free online backup services are typically capped at two gigabytes, small businesses using these methods could be vulnerable to data loss
  • 24% of small businesses using this method noted USB/flash drives do not work well for backup specifically because they have limited storage space
  • 22% of small businesses surveyed pay for outside tech assistance
  • 40% of those who manage the process in-house spend more than an hour per week backing up their company data, with 6% spending more than five hours per week
  • Only 24% have backed up their data in the past day, and 24% haven’t backed up their data within the past week

Gosh. Sounds serious.

If one reads further, however, one notes two things. First of all, by an amazing coincidence, Carbonite just happens to sell a service, at what is no doubt a reasonable price, that solves all these problems.

Second of all, there is absolutely no information in the press release about the study itself, other than its name: Carbonite Small Business Data Backup Usage Study, July 2011. Nothing about how many people were surveyed, how they were chosen, or anything. For any vendor survey, this tends to cast suspicion on its results.

Not to mention, July? Really?

If one uses one’s favorite search engine to search for the title of said study, one discovers that Carbonite has in fact referenced the same study in three other press releases, in July, October, and November. It’s in the July one that we learn that the survey itself on which the study was based was actually performed in April. 2011.

That said, several outlets, including no less than eWeek, picked up the survey and ran it as a straight news story.

But Carbonite, which went public last summer, was in the news for something else recently. In response to the Rush Limbaugh lambasting of Sandra Fluke as a “slut” for implying that she actually, gasp, had sex, Carbonite pulled its advertising on March 3 from the conservative radio show — one of some 40 radio talk shows on which it advertises, according to a blog post from the company president.

There have been two results from that. First, Carbonite has been slagged by any number of sites in the right-wing echo chamber, as well as on its own Facebook page, for daring to question Rush — not to mention, as it turns out, because the company CEO had donated money to left-wing candidates and causes. Second, the company’s stock dropped some 10% in a day, from which it is slowly — very slowly — recovering.

So, did the company issue yet another press release on the same July study — now with data nearly a year old — to deflect interest from the Rush flap?

March 14, 2012  5:10 PM

Western Digital Finally Closes Hitachi GST Purchase

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

Almost exactly a year after it was first announced, Western Digital has announced that it has closed its purchase of Hitachi GST, after being required to sell off a portion of the business to satisfy the FTC.

Western Digital announced the deal on March 7, 2011, and said it expected it to close in September of that year. It seems to have slipped a bit. In the meantime, Hitachi GST changed its name to Viviti Technologies Ltd.

Western Digital said the acquisition cost $3.9 billion in cash and 25 million shares of WDC common stock valued at approximately $0.9 billion, in comparison to the original deal of $3.5 billion in cash and $750 million in stock. Hitachi, Ltd. now owns approximately 10% of WDC shares outstanding, and it has the right to designate two individuals to the board of directors, the company said.

For anticompetitive reasons, the Federal Trade Commission required that Western Digital sell assets to Toshiba Corp. that Hitachi uses to make and sell desktop hard- disk drives, according to Bloomberg. The European Commission had also required Western Digital to sell one of Viviti’s 3.5-inch manufacturing plants and associated intellectual property for making these drives. In return, Western Digital received a Toshiba plant that had been damaged in last year’s Thai floods. Chinese regulators also required the two companies to remain separate entities for two years.

This is all after Seagate bought Samsung storage last April and Toshiba bought Fujitsu storage in February 2009. And imagine, some people think the storage industry is boring.

So what have we got here?” summarizes Chris Mellor of Register UK. “We have a 5-player industry featuring Hitachi GST, Samsung, Seagate, Toshiba and Western Digital shrinking to three over an (at least) two year period. Seagate is buying Samsung but has to operate it at arms length for one year due to Chinese conditions. WD is buying Hitachi GST but has a two year limbo before it can apply to the Chinese guy to formally integrate its two subsidiaries. Toshiba is getting two legs up into the 3.5-inch disk drive business by getting Hitachi GST’s disk production and some off-loaded WD production too. It is, in manufacturing capacity and HDD technology terms, an unanticipated gainer from the WD-HGST acquisition. Furthermore, because it has its own flash foundry, unlike either Seagate or WD, it is arguably well-placed to add flash caches to its disk drives.”

Combining the production volume of Seagate and Samsung and Western Digital and Vivinti (HGST), in CQ4 2011 market share would have been 47% Seagate Technology, 37% Western Digital and 16% Toshiba, according to storage analyst Tom Coughlin. At the time of the announcement, Western Digital held about 31% of the hard disk drive market, followed by Seagate Technology with 29%. Hitachi had about 18%, wrote Grant Gross of IDG News Service.

March 1, 2012  12:13 AM

Judge Rules that Legal Firms Can Use Computer-Based ‘Predictive Coding’ in E-Discovery

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

In a decision that may be as far-reaching as the 2006 changes in rules for civil proceedings that essentially created the e-discovery market, Southern District of New York Magistrate Judge Andrew Peck has issued a ruling that litigants may (that word is important) use computer-assisted review software that uses “predictive technology” software to help determine the relevance of documents.

Ironically, this all happens almost exactly a year after the New York Times published an article on the subject, which though it didn’t use the term “predictive coding” described the practice and its effect on the legal community. Studies have also found that computer programs are better at it than legal staff.

The “may” is important for two reasons. The first is that, due to some confusion, some people believed that Peck’s ruling, in the case of Monique Da Silva Moore, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Publicis Groupe & MSL Group, Defendents, 11 Civ. 1279 (ALC)(AJP)required the use of predictive coding, which is does not do. The second is that a different case, Kleen Products LLC v. Packaging Corporation of America, et al., still in court, does hinge on the question of requiring predictive coding.

Indeed, in the particular case to which Peck refers, the litigants agreed between themselves to use predictive coding in principle — but have been unable to agree on the details, and in fact the plaintiffs have filed an objection to Peck’s ruling, saying they are concerned that the software process is not transparent enough.

Peck’s opinion is not a surprise; last October, he wrote an article describing predictive coding and its role in e-discovery. While he uses charming phrases such as “A basic problem is that absent cooperation, the way most lawyers engage in keyword searches is, as Ralph Losey suggests, the equivalent of “Go Fish,””, one hopes he is a better judge than a prophet:

Perhaps they are looking for an opinion concluding that: “It is the opinion of this court that the use of predictive coding is a proper and acceptable means of conducting searches under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and furthermore that the software provided for this purpose by [insert name of your favorite vendor] is the software of choice in this court.” If so, it will be a long wait.

Four months isn’t all that long.

Needless to say, e-discovery vendors are kvelling about the ruling, and not just because Peck uses charming phrases such as, “The Court recognizes that computer-assisted review is not a magic, Staples-Easy-Button, solution appropriate for all cases.” (Peck emphasizes that he isn’t endorsing any particular vendor.)

Clearwell, for example — recently purchased by Symantec (which had specified growth in technology-assisted review as one of its 2012 predictions) as one of the first e-discovery acquisition dominoes to fall — noted five major points about the decision:

  • The Court did not order the use of predictive coding
  • Computer-assisted review is not required in all cases
  • The opinion should not be considered an endorsement of any particular vendors or tools
  • Predictive coding technology can still be expensive
  • Process and methodology are as important as the technology utilized

Organizations that have held off on implementing predictive coding now have a green light to proceed.

February 27, 2012  10:37 PM

Facebook Starts Designing Its Own Storage

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

Remember when Facebook started designing its own servers and data center?

Now it’s designing its own disk drives.

This is all supposed to be part of the company’s Open Compute initiative, according to Wired, though it’s not yet included on the website, and details were thin. (For example, it isn’t clear whether they include the hard drive thermostat the project described last summer.) However, the company said it will release its new storage designs in early May at the next Open Compute Summit.

Facebook is doing all this because it has such a heavy load — 845 million users and 140 billion digital photographs, Wired said — so savings that it can achieve in hardware, whether in the hardware itself, the power it uses, or the cooling it requires, can aggregate to quite a lot. The company has already made a number of changes to its servers to save cost, space, and heat.

For example, in its Prineville, Ore., data center, the company has eliminated chillers and uninterruptible power supplies, Wired said. The article quoted a Facebook engineer, originally from Dell, as saying that the really valuable part of storage is the disk drive itself and the software that controls how the data gets distributed to and recovered from those drives, and that the company would do what it could to eliminate the other ancillary parts, as well as make the valuable parts easier to get at and fix. For example, the company would like to eliminate the handles and screws that are currently part of some disk drives.

So why does this matter to you? Because Facebook intends to open source the storage design when it’s finished, meaning it could end up in the marketplace, as it has with its servers. So chances are, what Facebook decides will affect your data center, too.

February 23, 2012  11:17 PM

Suspects May Not Need to Decrypt Storage for Law Enforcement After All

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

Contradicting earlier court actions in other states, the Atlanta-based U.S. Court of Appeals of the 11th Circuit has ruled that a man suspected of holding child pornography on his hard disk drive doesn’t have to reveal the necessary code to decrypt it for law enforcement, saying it violates his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.

In comparison, in January a woman suspected of bank fraud was ordered to give up her password by a U.S. District judge.

The issue had come down to a question of what analogy to use for a data encryption device. “Is a computer password like a key to a lockbox, as the government argues? Or is it akin to a combination to a safe, as Fricosu’s attorneys say? While the key is a physical thing and not protected by the Fifth Amendment, the Supreme Court has said, a combination — as the “expression of the contents of an individual’s mind” — is.”

While the Colorado judge had decided it was more like a key, apparently the 11th Circuit decided it was more like a combination.

There was one other case, also involving child pornography, but in that case, prosecutors had some evidence that the disk drive actually contained pornograpy, wrote the Wall Street Journal.

While organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation supported defendants, prosecutors said that doing so would mean that all criminals would have to do is encrypt their hard drive and they’d be protected from law enforcement.

What this new result means is that the whole issue is likely to end up in the Supreme Court at some point, which will release a final ruling and settle the issue once and for all.

February 13, 2012  11:46 PM

Experimenters Set Stage for Real Real Fast Disk Storage

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

A few weeks ago, we were hearing all about how IBM researchers were developing teeny-weeny disk storage. Now we’re hearing about how other researchers are developing really fast disk storage. Unfortunately, the two technologies aren’t compatible, so you’ll have to settle for small or fast, not both. Noted one York University researcher in the multinational team:

Instead of using a magnetic field to record information on a magnetic medium, we harnessed much stronger internal forces and recorded information using only heat. This revolutionary method allows the recording of Terabytes (thousands of Gigabytes) of information per second, hundreds of times faster than present hard drive technology. As there is no need for a magnetic field, there is also less energy consumption.”

According to ScienceNOW, this is how it works:

[L]aser light heats up the gadolinium-iron alloy so incredibly fast—in 1/10,000 of a nanosecond—that at first only the iron atoms lose their mass orientation. The gadolinium atoms react more slowly in losing their magnetization. And once the iron atoms get hot enough and are free to pivot around, they prefer to align in the same direction as the gadolinium atoms. Then, as the material quickly cools and the orientations of the atoms freeze up, the iron and gadolinium atoms again prefer to point in opposite directions. But this time, it’s the slow-cooling gadoliniums that flip leading to a predictable overall reversal in the material’s magnetization.”

There’s only one problem. Remember the jokes about “write-only memory“? Turns out that, at least for the moment, that’s what the laser storage produces, because it isn’t clear how to read it again. “The only problem, at this point, is that while lasers are great at writing magnetic data, reading it is another challenge entirely,” notes DVICE.com. “The researchers seem to have used a fancy type of X-ray spectrometer that can read magnetic fields to check and see if they were writing the data that they thought they were, but until those get shrunk down to HDD component size (or someone comes up with something clever), we may be stuck just writing our data really really fast and not reading it ever again.”

February 9, 2012  11:26 PM

Storage Industry Loses One of Its Stars

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

Neither the storage industry nor the state of Idaho are known for having flashy technical CEOs like Larry Ellison and Steve Jobs, but they both lost one last Friday when Micron CEO Steve Appleton died unexpectedly in a crash of his plane.

A daredevil and adrenalin junkie who excelled in tennis, scuba diving, surfing, wakeboarding, motorcycling, off-road car racing, taekwondo, and aviation, who had already survived a crash in 2004, the 51-year-old Appleton was named one of the worst CEOs in the country by Forbes at the same time that Fortune was naming Micron one of the most-admired companies in the nation. Some criticized him for his salary, while others said it was not out of line in the heavily cyclical DRAM industry.

Raised in California, Appleton attended Boise State University and began working for Micron soon after graduation, eventually working himself up to president, chairman, and CEO in 1994, making him one of the nation’s youngest CEOs. According to Jim Handy of Objective Analysis:

Under his guidance the company became the last surviving US DRAM manufacturer and turned around a number of failing DRAM businesses it acquired from Texas Instruments, Toshiba, Qimonda, and others, while investing in businesses outside of its core DRAM strength including a recent acquisition of NOR maker Numonyx.  One particularly successful investment has been Micron’s IMFT joint venture with Intel for the manufacture of NAND flash.

While the company’s chips were used in a variety of products, its own consumer brand is Lexar.

In Idaho, Micron was a major employer and, along with HP, helped form Boise’s nascent technology community. Due to the company’s innovations and the state’s small population, Idaho often ranked at or near the top in lists of numbers of patents per capita.

Unlike some other superstar tech CEOs, however, Appleton was known for his philanthropic efforts — for example, donating money to Boise State for its tennis courts and for a business and economics building to be named after Micron, still under construction. The company’s Micron Foundation also donated to the College of Western Idaho community college, founded just a few years ago.

Appleton is survived by a wife and four children. The board has named as CEO former president and COO Mark Durcan — who had just announced his retirement a week before.

January 31, 2012  4:38 PM

MegaUpload Seizure Mega Bummer for Legitimate Users

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

In case you needed proof of what the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) bill could have done, the U.S. government went on a few days after SOPA was withdrawn and shut down a website, claiming it was used to disseminate copyrighted content such as movies and television programs.

“The domain name associated with the website Megaupload.com has been seized pursuant to an order issued by a U.S. District Court. A federal grand jury has indicted several individuals and entities allegedly involved in the operation of Megaupload.com and related websites charging them with the following federal crimes,” including copyright infringement, racketeering, and conspiracy, reads a notice on the website.

Regardless of the merits of that case in specific, the bigger issue is, what about the users of the site — reportedly up to 50 million of them — who were using it for completely legitimate purposes?

Or, as we wrote last year:

And think of how this would play with the new PROTECT-IP bill that’s being proposed, which would let a third party shut down a site for having a copy of its intellectual property: Viacom, say, uploads a copy of a movie it suspects is available on Dropbox, finds it’s already there, demands to know who it owns it, and then shuts down that company’s site — potentially all without ever getting a warrant, because if Dropbox won’t tell, Viacom can shut *it* down for having a copy of the file. And if Dropbox gets shut down, what happens to all its other, innocent users’ files?

Data on the MegaUpload servers was scheduled to be deleted as soon as February 2, but the companies that own the servers have agreed to wait at least two weeks in hopes of developing a way that legitimate users can get access to their files. The companies are working with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and have set up a website to collect users who might have lost access to their data.

But the logistics of this might be complex, noted Time.

It’s also unclear how users would get their data back even if Megaupload and the government came to an agreement. Would they simply open the site again with uploads and sign ups disabled, or come up with some other way to access the data? And how would they ensure that users weren’t helping themselves to content that infringes copyrights? Any method would require time and development efforts — the process could easily get messy.

January 26, 2012  8:24 PM

LegalTech NY Brings Out Lots of E-Discovery Announcements

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

It’s not quite as big as CES or CeBIT, but all the legal geeks will be partying down in New York next week during LegalTech NY. Hide the breakables.

It also means that every e-discovery company will be crawling out of the woodwork to tout (as opposed to tort — did you see what I did there?) its wares. Announcements include the following:

Demonstrating products but not announcing anything new will be Omtool and Pitney Bowes. For other announcements during the show, follow the #ltny hashtag on Twitter.

Remember, what happens in New York….could be held against you in a court of law.

January 20, 2012  6:14 PM

Study Warns of Third-Party Data Recovery Services

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Or, in this case, who protects you from the person who protects your data? According to a recent study by the Ponemon Institute, Trends in Security of Data Recovery Operations, the very third-party data recovery services that can help you get your data back might be helping themselves to your data, too.

We surveyed 769 IT security and IT support practitioners who are involved in their organization’s data security or data recovery operations. According to the findings, 85 percent of these respondents report their organizations have used or will continue to use a third-party data recovery service provider to recover lost data. This is an increase from 79 percent in the previous study. We also learned that organizations are frequently using a third party when a device crashes. In fact, 37 percent use multiple third parties and 39 percent say they use third parties at least once each week or more. However, the vetting of these data recovery service providers is considered fair by 30 percent of respondents and 9 percent say it is poor.”

This sort of problem isn’t new, and isn’t limited to corporations, but the problem is getting worse, Ponemon says:

A large percentage of respondents in this study report their organization has had at least one data breach (87 percent) in the past two years. (This is consistent with other Ponemon Institute studies about the prevalence of data breaches). Of the 87 percent who say their organization had a data breach, 21 percent say the breach occurred when a drive was in the possession of a third-party data recovery service provider. This is an increase from 19 percent in the previous study. In many cases, respondents point to the data recovery service provider’s lack of security that led to the data breach.”

21%! Yikes!

Note, too, that this doesn’t mean the third-party data recovery service itself hires crooks, but that the security at the service itself might be lacking and serve as an enticing honeypot for criminal hackers. For example, in May 2011, Co-operative Life Planning’s funeral planning division discovered that the personal data of 83,000 customers was leaked after a data recovery firm was called in after a hard disk failure. Although the work was successful, the data was retained on the servers of the data recovery company, and their servers were then hacked into. (But no doubt it’s the owner of the data, not the recovery company, that has to deal with notifying the users involved.)

So, what to do? The Ponemon report offers some suggestions on how to pick a reputable firm, and DriveSavers offers a (somewhat dated, 2009) white paper with similar suggestions.

The important thing, Ponemon says, is that organizations need to consider security as a primary factor in selecting such companies. Notes the study:

The majority of respondents in our study either report to the Chief Information Officer or Chief Information Security Officer. Fifty-nine percent are at or above the supervisory level. These individuals believe that their organizations are making decisions about who will handle the data recovery process based on the speed of service, successful rate of recovery and overall quality of service rather than data security. As a result, only 28 percent see data security as a main criterion for determining the adequacy of third-party data recovery service providers.”

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