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Startup Nasuni says it has cracked the problem of storing files directly in the cloud with a software virtual NAS appliance.

The Nasuni filer is software that provides a CIFS and NFS gateway interface to files stored in the cloud and looks like a regular network-attached storage (NAS) filer to applications and servers. It comes as a VMware virtual machine and needs a 500GB disk cache, which it uses to deduplicate data going to the cloud and rehydrate it on the way back, if the original data is no longer in cache.

Nasuni is working with a selected group of cloud service suppliers including Amazon S3, Iron Mountain and Nirvanix. Customers carry on doing e-mail and database applications as currently, but send files off to the cloud in the world according to Nasuni. They'll need a high-speed Internet connection to make this work properly.

Back-end connections to Nirvanix and Rackspace will be added soon, and probably others; Andre Rodriguez, a co-founder of Nasuni, says: "We're talking to everyone."

He reckons this is the first time mid-market end-users can store primary data, as opposed to secondary and backup data, in the cloud. He and the other founder, Rob Mason, both come from Archivas, an archiving product supplier bought by Hitachi Data Systems.

Rodriguez says a 15-day trial of the Nasuni filer is available. It works with Amazon and Iron Mountain, and people should be able to have it downloaded and up and running in 15 minutes: "Our images are fairly small, approximately 200GB, even with the cache."

If customers want high-availability they can get that from VMware. The product effectively delivers thin provisioning: "There's no limit on capacity through the cloud. [Customers] pay for what they use and never have to re-provision."

He says there is a file versioning problem in the cloud: "You can't change things in the cloud. It's great for backups but not for file systems. We solve that problem with... periodic snapshots, and generate a set of objects, deduplicated and pushed out to the cloud. The snapshots mean we offer instant restores without having to do a backup. No data moves; we re-link to a previous point in time in the file system. You don't [then] have to offer a second layer of protection."

"If the VMware system breaks down all the metadata is in the cloud. If you have to reconnect you just pull back a top meta data layer very quickly... Data is then pulled back as you need it."

The deduplication is, Rodriguez says: "all around versioning. We do sub-file de-dupe across [file] versions."

Data is also encrypted before being sent to the cloud and keys can be stored in an escrow facility through a third party.

Nasuni was founded in March 2009 and 14 of its 18 staff are software engineers. It's based in Natick, Mass, and has pulled in $8m of funding.

Pricing is a $250/month flat fee for files if you pay up front for a year. There is no limit on users and capacity. Naturally, customers need a capacity deal with a cloud service provider.

When the beta completes, the software should be available direct from Nasuni with a cloud storage service bundled in, so that customers have the classic one-throat-to-choke service. Alternatively it would be available through a Nasuni partner with the partner either doing the provisioning of the cloud service or just supplying the Nasuni software. With the direct business model, Rodriguez says: "We make it easy to get credentials from Amazon and Iron Mountain."

Nasuni wants to enable primary file data storage as a service and thinks it has all the variables lined up to make a go of this. Download its cloud filer gateway software if you want to see if it's talking out of its SaaS. ®

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