Data transport system speeds recoveries

Long-distance, large-scale data transmissions will become more reliable and easier to control with enhancements announced late last month for Digital Fountain Inc.’s Transporter Fountain.

The platform, designed to let enterprises take full advantage of the bandwidth available to them on private wide-area networks (WANs) and carrier services, will get reliability and management enhancements in its second version, according to Charlie Oppenheimer, vice-president of marketing and business development at Digital Fountain, in Fremont, Calif.

Transporter Fountain 2.0 gains a dual data stream function for failover capability with load balancing, as well as tools to control how much bandwidth a transmission consumes and a method of sending very large files in a continuous stream.

The Transporter Fountain is designed to avoid delay problems inherent in using FTP (file transfer protocol) over long distances, Oppenheimer said. That commonly used technology has to wait for confirmation that one shipment of data has arrived safely before it can send the next, a back-and-forth process that keeps a server or storage device from sending as much data as it might over long distances.

The product works by not sending the data at all, but rather sending what Digital Fountain calls meta-content: a series of identical equations that describes the data that needs to be sent. Because of a principle of mathematics called simultaneous linear equations, only a certain number of these equations is needed to decode the data at the other end. There is no need for resending lost equations, so there is no need to wait for delivery confirmations before sending more data, Oppenheimer said.

Freed of this constraint, enterprises can use whatever portion of their available bandwidth they wish for sending information between a central office and a branch or between a main data centre and a backup facility, he said. With that bandwidth, they can transfer large amounts of data over the network instead of shipping tapes, which can take days and doesn’t give administrators the latest data if they try to reconstruct the record after a disaster.

Entertainment company Warner Elektra Atlantic Corp. recently built a backup data centre in California to store information from its manufacturing facility in Pennsylvania. Backing up data on tapes and sending them out to the backup data centre would take days, said Michael Streb, vice-president of infrastructure services for Warner Elektra Atlantic, a division of AOL Time Warner Inc.

“We knew shipping (data) back and forth wasn’t going to keep us in synch,” Streb said. The company explored alternative systems but said they couldn’t handle the volume of data it needed to transport.

When the backup data centre was first established, the company cordoned off 42Mbps of a 45Mbps private WAN link and sent two terabytes of existing data in less than 48 hours.

“It doesn’t suffer from latency at all,” Streb said.

The latest version of Transporter Fountain includes a feature called Fountain Pool, which allows the appliance to send its data over two separate paths. In case of failure on one link, the remaining connection can quickly take over. It will also include Pipeline, which allows one part of a large file to be loaded into the appliance while another part is being sent over the WAN. This will allow companies to send files of any size, according to Oppenheimer.

Moving from tape shipments to network transfers can mean better security, said Lucinda Borovick, an analyst at IDC, in Framingham, Mass.

“Once it’s on a tape, it can go anywhere,” Borovick said.

The Transporter Fountain 2.0 appliances are available immediately, priced starting at US$35,000. Transporter Fountain 1.0 customers can receive the upgrade to 2.0 free as part of the company’s maintenance agreement.