Harvey Medcalf’s Toronto-based startup sounds familiar at first. After hatching an idea in their parents’ basements, a group of 20-somethings have formed a team to take on Facebook with a bigger, better, more comprehensive social network – the difference for Arroware Industries’ myApollo is it has already spent $2.5 million to lay out a technology infrastructure that its founders describe as on par with the other public cloud offerings they’re competing against.
Launching Wednesday, myApollo combines a cloud file syncing and sharing service with a social network approach. Similar to cloud file syncing services like Dropbox or Google Drive, it will allow users access to their files across many devices – but without actually storing those files on a Web service. It will also give users the opportunity to share their files with friends and colleagues, expanding the sharing footprint from beyond their own devices and collaborating with others. In the works for just over one year since the idea was conceived, Medcalf and his co-founders managed to pool together financing from private investors to create the IT backbone such a business requires. But it had a harder time finding a solutions provider that would actually help them build it.
“It’s hard to believe some kids are going to take on Facebook,” he says. “We reached out to a number of different companies and you wouldn’t believe the number of people that turned away our phone call… I think when people realized we were trying to start the next social network, that’s something they shied away from.”
But not Dell Inc. The IT solutions firm jumped on the project right off the bat, Medcalf says. It stepped in to build out the infrastructure myApollo demanded to deliver files over the Internet quickly and consistently, with room to grow as more users sign up for the service and more storage gets pushed through the data pipes. Dell provided servers, storage, and switches and built the infrastructure from the ground up, working with Arroware’s development team to understand how all the moving pieces fit into their Web service.
“It’s not every day we start with a ‘greenfield’ client that is going end-to-end, soup-to-nuts,” says Conor Duffy, lead solutions architect at Dell. “IT is really a core strategic component to their business model.”
Key to myApollo’s service is a unique architecture that allows for users to access their data and share with others, all without storing that data in the cloud. As a result, myApollo’s storage system is devoid of any network-attached storage (NAS) or a storage area network (SAN); and no file system. Instead it uses object-based storage that is software-defined and a more distributed, grid-based system.
In other words, rather than act like a catch-all for a user’s files that they want to sync across devices and act as a data centre-to-user model, myApollo takes advantage of all the unused storage on a users’ hardware – across their PC, tablet, smartphone, etc. – and then acts as another peer device in the data exchange. No file is stored in its entirety on myApollo’s infrastructure, but instead a fingerprint that allows that data to be reconstructed on the fly. It’s a proprietary technology developed by myApollo that Medcalf compares to the blueprints for a house.
“Much like the blocks of a torrent, the reconstruction information starts filling up the file structure,” he says. It allows you to pull a file over the cloud from your laptop, even when that laptop is turned off.
To move that data across the myApollo network, Dell installed a M1000E server chassis holding M620 blade servers. Powered by Inel Xeon E2660 processors, the servers allow for a flat network design that is capable of livestreaming audio and video files over the Web. The servers were chosen in part because they are energy-efficient and run quite cool. Not wanting to take up a lot of floor space in myApollo’s 20-person startup office space, there wasn’t a ton of room to build in typical server cooling gear.
“The network is the most important aspect of the entire design,” Duffy says. “It had to be designed with no single point of failure.”
A 40 Gigabyte Ethernet network will run on Dell’s Force10 switch series, including the Force10 MXL, Force10 S4810, Force10 S50N and Force10 S60N. The series is designed by Dell to work in a distributed network model. Rather than have one mega, fridge-sized switch where all the office’s Ethernet cables plug in, these switches are fixed-port and can be added as network demand grows.
“Dell played a key role with us, helping to come up with a scalable plan,” Medcalf says. Dell is the sole hardware partner for Arroware’s new social network.
The infrastructure gets its first real-world test on Wednesday when myApollo unveils its new social network to the world. Advertised with a teaser campaign involving public transit ads in Toronto thus far, the campaign will begin in earnest to convince busy Web surfers they should sign up for yet another social account.
They’ve built it. Now they need the users to come.