Not many Australian companies have made their mark on the world of storage, but Adelaide's Rocksoft seems might...
just be about to make a very large mark indeed.
The company's data de-duplication technology is so hot it has been acquired twice in recent years and is now at the centre of storage giant Quantum's backup, recovery and archiving plans.
Rocksoft's story starts with Dr. Ross Williams, holder of a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Adelaide. Much of Williams' work concerns technology for compressing, de-duplicating, and preserving the integrity of stored data. And it was that work that eventually turned into Rocksoft, according to David Truslow, the company's Director, Product and Program Management.
"The company started in 1996 in a bedroom," he explains. "Ross did not go after venture capital but did attract a lot of private investment."
By 1999 Williams' early work was ready for the market and the company formally launched with a product called Veracity that "monitors data to identify when and where changes may have occurred and allows for the data to be rolled back to restore integrity."
The software was billed as rock solid" a boast that gave the company its name, and included patented technology developed by Williams and quickly won users from among the operators of large data centres such as SWIFTnet and the Reserve Bank of Australia.
But Truslow says the company soon found it had saturated the market, leaving the founders "scratching their heads, wondering what we could do for an encore."
The next move was a version of the product for smaller environments.
Dubbed Blocklets, the new product reached the market in 2004 and brought Rocksoft's key technologies to a wider audience by offering startling data compression rates.
The company achieves this effect by examining data at file, block and sub-block levels and identifying redundant elements and eliminating them, a process it calls Redundant Data Elimination (RDE). Redundancies are identified by treating data as binary large objects and looking for patterns that represent data that is also present in other files. The software extracts the parts of data present elsewhere, stores only the unique data, then recombines files when users access them.
Applied to Microsoft Word files, for example, the software would remove the common elements of a .doc file that are part of Microsoft's formatting but not part of the content of a document. There's no need to preserve those elements of a Word file, so Rocksoft's tools dispense with them until the file is needed.
The result is a considerable saving in storage space and reduced demand for bandwidth to move the file across a network. "Even in data where you would imagine a great deal of randomness like MP3s, we can find 30% reductions," Truslow asserts. "And if you backup everything on your laptop you will find that somewhere near 60% of data can be eliminated right off the bat."
Those numbers made Rocksoft hot property and in March 2006 the company was acquired by ADIC for the sum of $63 million. In May of the same year ADIC was acquired by Quantum, partly because the company wanted to get its hands on Rocksoft's technology.
Fast forward to December 2006 and you can see why, as Blocklets has now been baked into Quantum's DXi3500 and DXi5500 appliances, which the company now promotes as making it possible to store 10 to 50 times more data on disk and thereby store more data on disk for longer.
"This is a major initiative that meets the trend in the market for more disk storage," says Craig Tamlin, Quantum's Country Manager Australia and New Zealand.
"The challenge of disk as a backup medium has been cost. But data de-duplication reduces the cost of disk and makes it possible to back up more data to disk and then use tape for secondary archival processes."
Another market Rocksoft will help the company to reach is companies with remote backup needs that desire centralised storage infrastructure, as the bandwidth reductions offered by data compression should place less stress on the WAN and make more frequent remote backup possible.
Quantum also asserts that the combination of Rocksoft's technology and its hardware is a breakthrough, as by building de-duplication into a storage device the need for additional de-duplication or compression devices is removed.
"That is Quantum's secret sauce," Truslow says. "Other have compression but only in software. We do it a lot better and a lot faster."
Rocksoft, meanwhile, has even better and faster versions of its software on its mind. The company's 20-strong engineering team (known as the 'Rockettes') is already working on next generation products.
And Quantum is working on taking Rocksoft to the world inside thousands of storage devices, now and well into the future, all across the planet.
That's not something many Australian companies can claim in any field. Even fewer can make the claim in the storage industry, making Rocksoft a company to watch for a number of very worthy reasons indeed.