When Is a Cloud Really a Cloud?

Chicago Museum Struggles

The Museum of Broadcast Communications (MBC), located in downtown Chicago, had a similar problem as Imageworks. Since its inception in 1987, the not-for-profit museum’s goal has been to collect, preserve and present a wide array of historic and contemporary radio and television programming.

As MBC began moving its collection online a couple of years ago, problems started to crop up. “We don’t charge people to access our archives, but we do ask them to register,” said Bruce DuMont, founder and president of MBC. “Almost overnight, we had 8,000 registered online users, and we started to choke on our own success.”

Through the years, the primary technical challenge MBC faced was putting together a large enough storage infrastructure to serve up a massive amount of stored digital and unstructured data. When their single-server storage setup inevitably failed to meet growing demand, MBC had to suspend their online services. That’s when luck intervened. By chance, Chris Gladwin, CEO of Cloud storage startup Cleversafe, was a registered user of MBC. When DuMont sent out an email to members explaining why MBC had to suspend its online service, Gladwin was one of the recipients.

DuMont and Gladwin talked and learned that they were both located in downtown Chicago and set up a meeting. Soon thereafter, MBC contracted Cleversafe to start building out an advanced, Cloud-based, distributed storage infrastructure.

Cleversafe’s technology divides data into “slices” and disperses them to multiple storage nodes on a distributed storage network. Each individual “slice” contains too little information to be useful by itself, but when a certain threshold of slices is reached, they can be used to perfectly recreate the original data. Moreover, Cleversafe claims that the sum capacity of all the slices is significantly less than maintaining multiple copies of the original data, making data management easier and less expensive.

In addition to using Cleversafe to store their data, MBC also relies on the technology for distribution rather than implementing a separate content delivery network. When users view content on the MBC website, the data is pulled directly from Cleversafe storage and displayed via a media server in front of the Cleversafe hardware, saving MBC money and physical space without sacrificing performance or scalability for their end users.

“(Cleversafe) gave us a way to store and distribute our content―really, our bread and butter―within our budget. And, because of the money we saved both on the solution itself and on not needing a separate CDN, we can now afford to continue digitizing our remaining content, making our presentations better for our viewers,” DuMont said. Today, MBC serves up over 8,500 unique digital assets to more than 36,000 registered users.

Nobody Knows

Whether purists would call Imageworks’ or MBC’s Clouds real Clouds or not is beside the point. As the old New Yorker cartoon quipped, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” The same can be said with Cloud services. If end users get what they want and it works, nobody cares whether it’s a public Cloud, a private one or a hybrid. The only thing they care about is whether or not it works. And, at least for some, Clouds work.

Jeff Vance is a freelance writer and the founder of Sandstorm Media, a writing and marketing services firm focused on emerging technology trends. If you have ideas for future stories, contact him at [email protected] or visit www.sandstormmedia.net.