Bitcasa, a consumer cloud services startup, launched a public beta of its unlimited cloud storage service on Wednesday.
The service claims to deliver "unlimited storage" by compressing data and de-duplicating files from multiple users, rather than simply storing all of each user's files on its servers. If multiple users have the same file saved, Bitcasa saves pointers to the files rather than copies.
De-duplicating data across users has raised eyebrows among industry watchers. But the company says that file encryption occurs on the client side, keeping the user's files safeguarded from intrusion by the company or other users, concerns that have potentially slowed the adoption of consumer cloud storage services.
On Mac, PC and Linux desktops, Bitcasa integrates with the operating system, such that the system will indicate that a file stored through Bitcasa is local, according to CEO Tony Gauda. Bitcasa works on mobile devices using HTML5.
When there is a connection, local devices communicate with the cloud by streaming, rather than through discrete uploads and downloads, potentially speeding things up.
"We intercept the file system calls and fool the operating system into believing that the files are actually local on the device," Gauda explained. "We stream them to and from the cloud in real time, but we cache a lot of that information locally on every device. You can have a terabyte of information and only 16 gigs will be cached locally, but those are the 16 that you use most often."
The novel storage method holds out the promise of smoothing over access disruptions, a common complaint about cloud storage. If a user is travelling with an iPad, for example, and loses Internet access, with Bitcasa she can at least access the files she uses most frequently and those she has set to save to her device.
Gene Ruth, a research director at Gartner, said the startup offers improvements to the cloud storage market from a consumer's perspective, but the question is whether it can deliver.
"There's a lot of things they have to get right because this file sync and share business is not that easy," Ruth said.
Bitcasa will likely fail early if it fails, since at US$10 a month for unlimited storage, customers will almost certainly come apace, Ruth said. And if it succeeds, it will likely force the rest of the consumer cloud storage market to abandon storage limits.
Although Gauda makes the pitch that Bitcasa could be everybody's "C Drive," he admitted that if users flocked to its public beta by the billions, Bitcasa would stagger at least briefly. But the company could then look to Amazon's cloud services to help it scale up, he said.
Bitcasa launched a private beta in January. The company claims to manage 4 petabytes of data and more than a billion files.
Cameron Scott covers search, web services and privacy for The IDG News Service. Follow Cameron on Twitter at CScott_IDG.