Contest winner hopes to take idea to masses

After sitting on an algorithm for a new way of storing data for years, a Canadian developer hopes being a finalist in an international development competition will help propel his idea from the garage to the reseller channel.

Rod da Silva was one of two Canadian finalists in the Microsoft-sponsored Connected Systems Developer Competition, which the software company held to draw attention to its November release of SQL Server 2005, BizTalk Server 2006 and Visual Studio 2005.

The contest attracted over 400 entries from 19 countries around the world, including eight from Canada, all using beta versions of the new releases in innovative ways. Jeff Zado, senior product manager with Microsoft Canada, said the goal was to give the developer community a chance to get their hands dirty with the new tools.

“(An entry) had to be commercially viable and it had to be solid, meaning it passed various unit tests and scaled based on the business premise they were trying to solve, leveraging best practices for security,” said Zado. “It had to be robust, and basically ready for prime time.”

The judges were third-party application developers who work with Microsoft, and Zado said the bulk of the winners also came from Microsoft’s partner and ISV community.

“I think you might see some of (the winning projects) offered up to the community or (available commercially),” said Zado.

Having worked as a consultant for clients like Nortel, CIBC Mellon and Allstream, da Silva is himself a .Net veteran. He still works as an independent consultant, and was recently hired by Mississauga’s Eidenai Innovations (EI) to lead its Enterprise Application Integration and Biztalk Server practice.

His winning entry was “The Transacted Parallel Splitter BizTalk Pattern”, a component piece of a larger application he calls SoftSAN, for soft storage area network. He said he’d been sitting on the algorithm at the heart of his entry for 16 years waiting for an excuse to bring it forward and looking for the right “killer-app.”

At its core is a new way of storing data; something da Silva said is even more attractive today when the volume of data companies have to manage is compounded by compliance requirements. “It’s the ability to take a file, break it apart in blocks and store it across machines in parallel, and then pull it back on demand,” said da Silva.

When the contest came along da Silva decided it was his chance to highlight SoftSAN, reworking it as an archival tool for the enterprise. With archival often an afterthought in enterprise applications, da Silva said there’s an opening here.

“(It’s) a service that would fit in a service oriented architecture and could take any application’s data, whether it be files, records, logs or e-mail, and archive it for you,” said da Silva. He explained that SoftSAN does it by using the hard drive space that’s unused.

The average enterprise user only uses 5 Gb of their 60Gb hard drive, and with a 100-PC network da Silva said that’s 5.5 Tb of unused space. SoftSAN virtualizes it and makes it available as a single drive. “It’s a typical drive that can be formatted with (Windows NT File System) and you can put whatever you want on it,” said da Silva.

To solve the issue of now having 100 possible points of failure, da Silva said he borrowed a page from Napster. While 5 Tb of space may be available, that can be scaled down, allowing extra space for redundancy. By storing blocks in multiple places, files can still be accessed if a few machines go down.

To commercialize the product da Silva said his vision is a shrink-wrapped software product tiered from home networks to the enterprise. While he was in front of some venture capitalists in the late 1990s da Silva said he hadn’t yet identified the killer app. “I suffer from ‘Garage Door Syndrome’. I’m the guy in the garage and people just don’t take you seriously….But I really feel SoftSAN could be that killer app.”

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