Digital Fountain Taps Data Flow

The startup's servers purport to send massive data files securely and quickly across WANs

January 1, 2002

3 Min Read
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Digital Fountain may have found an answer to the precarious and unpredictable nature of transferring large files across wide-area networks.

Anyone who sends large files across a computer network faces the sheer fear of sending a precious file and waiting to see if it gets there in one piece, in time, and without bringing the rest of the network down with it.

Those in the banking and brokerage world, where large data files must be moved quickly to a regulatory body, or where any batch transaction has to take place in a limited time window, worry about this problem constantly.

Digital Fountain says its recently announced Transporter Fountain server and software solve the problem by securely and quickly moving huge blocks of data from one point to another.

Transporter Fountains “meta-content” software pulls this off by eliminating the whole "send/acknowledge" hassle of file transfers based on FTP (file transfer protocol). Dropped packets and latency issues are a fact of life with FTP, requiring that some data be sent, resent, and sent again before a complete file arrives on the other end of the connection.In a typical scenario, FTP would take nearly 10 hours to send a 2-gigabyte file across the Atlantic, even across a 10-Mbit/s network, the company claims. Furthermore, intermittent network interruptions can cause the FTP session to abort. Additional bandwidth would provide almost no benefit, as it does nothing to address the send/acknowledge problem. By contrast, with Transporter Fountain, company officials say, the same data can be reliably delivered in just half an hour.

So how does it work?

Basically, the Transport Fountain servers need only receive a fixed number of packets from a file -- any packets, in any order. Each packet in the file contains the digital DNA of the entire file. If a hundred-packet file is sent, any hundred packets received will recreate the file, using Digital Fountain’s proprietary algorithms.

Sounds clever, eh?

The servers will slot into a Network Attached Storage (NAS) setup supporting the current widely adopted methods of file sharing, including Network File System (NFS), Common Internet File System (CIFS) and its predecessor SMB, as well as FTP.The brain behind Digital Fountain belongs to Michael Luby, CTO and cofounder, who lends the company much of its Street cred. A scientist in the areas of coding theory, randomized algorithms, cryptography, and graph theory, Luby is the inventor of the mathematical algorithm that generates Digital Fountain’s meta-content technology -- the ability to reassemble whole files from parts of them, which he affectionately calls "Luby Transform."

Luby's not the only high-profile honcho knocking around at this company. Clifford Meltzer, president and CEO of Digital Fountain, was a former Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) senior VP for IOS -- the routing code at the heart of all Cisco products.

It’s worth noting that Meltzer is still very much in contact with his old buddies at Cisco. In fact, back in July 2001, Cisco announced that it would run Digital Fountain’s software in its edge routers as part of its content distribution network (CDN) program for caching and serving up live content to end users. (See Cisco Systems and Digital Fountain.).

The company is also well-stoked on the funding side, having received close to $50 million in funding from Matrix Partners, Granite Systems Inc., Texas Instruments, Adobe Inc., Sony Corp. of America, and Cisco.

The new Digital Fountain products are available in two models: Transporter Fountain 1000 is a single-rack-unit appliance that includes 5 Gbytes of storage and supports meta-content delivery rates up to 10 Mbit/s. Transporter Fountain 3000 is designed for enterprise customers that distribute large amounts of data. It is a three-rack-unit appliance that includes 85 Gbytes of storage and supports meta-content delivery rates up to 70 Mbit/s.Other companies making noises in this area include Storigen Networks and MTI Technology Corp. (Nasdaq: MTIC) (see Storigen Clinches $15M in Funding, MTI Is Back, and Zambeel Lands $52.6M).

— Jo Maitland, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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