My thoughts about Symform

I exchanged emails with a reader, and during the exchange, he asked me my thoughts about Symform, especially about running it on a Synology NAS. Here is a copy of my response.

Overall symform is an affordable, new approach on the cloud storage concept, albeit with its shortcomings.

The synology symform client is extremely resource intensive, and would really drag down my DS211j for several minutes when the service started up. The need for having to manually having to set the port number is a shortsighted issue that Symform should address in an update.

The desktop client has no apparent indicator that it’s working either, so that’s another simple user experience issue.
From a security standpoint, Symform encrypts data with its own keys, and there’s no option (yet) to use your own. This comes down to how much one can “trust” symform and their protocols.

From a data integrity standpoint, their 50% parity is a good thing, but I’d be concerned if its enough. And since you’re placing your data in the hands of others, you’re relying on their upstream bandwidth (something that’s in short supply on a typical Internet connection) to get your data back. The more you store, the longer it will take, since there’s no individual file restore option — only whole folders.

Overall? It’s “good”, but not great. I’d use it for non-critical, non-sensitive data that wouldn’t need urgent restoration.

What are your thoughts on Symform? Please feel free to comment below. Thanks!

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  1. #1 by Leif Espelund on January 28, 2013 - 11:57 am

    Mike, thanks for posting about Symform. I just wanted to respond and clarify a few things based on the post.

    1. The DS211j is a fairly low powered device and doesn’t have the minimum specifications (1.6 GHz CPU and 256 MB RAM) that we recommend. While Symform will run on that device, it is not surprising that this user is seeing it get bogged down. Our service does a lot of work on the files (blocking, encrypting, shredding, and adding parity fragments) before they leave the device. By nature this work is somewhat resource intensive, however we are working on making it more efficient. See our requirements here: http://www.symform.com/join-the-revolution/getting-started/system-requirements/

    2. We do support UPnP to open a port, but only when the firewall supports them. Unfortunately in our experience only about 50% of routers/firewalls have this feature. There are ways to punch through, but we are concerned that our users wouldn’t like that. For now I think it is reasonable to ask users to manually open a port on their firewall.

    3. The desktop client and even our Cloud View dashboard are definitely lacking in notifications. We are currently working on a redesign of both to give the user more insight into and control over what is going on.

    4. For users who are worried about Symform holding the keys (which is pretty standard in this industry) we recommend using one of the many available encryption software packages available to pre-encrypt the files before we see them.

    5. Our revolutionary RAID-96 technology achieves data integrity with as minimal overhead as possible. Think of it like RAID over the internet. Symform is engineered to 5 nines of availability. This redundancy means that only a subset of nodes that are storing fragments of your files need to be online and available at any given time. We monitor the system and actually regenerate and redistribute fragments when nodes go offline. This technology also means that Symform can be very fast, since we are making multiple concurrent connects to other nodes (similar to how bittorrent works). It is our experience that the bottleneck is generally on the user end and not the system (though that is not always true). I encourage your readers to check out our advantages to read about how we achieve great security and speed: http://www.symform.com/our-solutions/symform-advantage/

    6. We are working on ways to do single file restore instead of whole folders. It is our biggest request.

    Thanks again!

    • #2 by Mike on February 2, 2013 - 1:03 pm

      Thank you for your response and acknowledgement of some of my points.

      I’d like to take this opportunity to respond to a couple of your statements.

      1. While the DS211j is a lower-end device, Symform does run [mostly] fine on it, minus the serious resource drain when it’s crunching data. I’m sure this could be easy fixed with some code tuning.

      2. While UPnP is fine (update: a security issue), the need to have to edit an XML file to change the port number is cumbersome at best. There should be an option to edit the port number in the UI. Also, doing the port number test doesn’t tell you what port is being tested.

      3. Thank you for acknowledging this.

      4. While I respect Symform’s position on holding the keys (and certainly this is appropriate if the data is stored encrypted on Symform’s disks), it’s becoming more widely-desired that users have an option to choose an encryption key that only they hold.

      5. This is actually an innovative approach, though I think the term “RAID” is at least a little misleading. I also have seen times where I shut my NAS down and get an email from Symform within a few hours to a day after, so I can confirm the devices are being monitored.

      6. I very much look forward to seeing single-file restore :)

      Again, thanks for taking the time to respond to my comments, and I look forward to seeing how Symform develops.

  2. #3 by bdleasureBryan on September 16, 2013 - 7:26 pm

    Nice back and forth, this was a very good read. It’s nice to see a cordial relationship between reviewer and reviewed.

  3. #4 by Ferry on October 9, 2013 - 7:19 am

    Thanks for the insight in this post. I really like the idea of how Symform works.

    Before I start contributing I would like to see “Trust no one” (I hold the only key) encryption implemented. Recent NSA revelations have made me reluctant to use forms of encryption were this is not the case.

    Are there any ideas to how Symform will affect my Synology DS413 to go into standby and hibernation? My system is usally running for 8 hours a day and standby the other 16 hours. I would like to keep it this way. I understand that a restore might require my system to be running, and this is acceptable. However can it be prevented the system is running all the time? e.g. during certain hours is not accepting incomming data?

    • #5 by admin on October 10, 2013 - 5:46 am

      As Symform runs pretty much all the time, you will most likely not see your unit hibernate at all.

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