In space, no one can steal your data.
Well, that’s the theory, anyway — one that the Boston data storage company Wasabi Technologies Inc. hopes to help prove.
Wasabi is partnering with a California company to create a database from outer space. The system, called SpaceBelt, will feature orbiting data centers capable of storing thousands of terabytes of information. SpaceBelt will be marketed to businesses and corporations that need instant access to their most valuable data, but who are also desperate to keep that data from being stolen or corrupted.
It’s super, super secure,” Wasabi cofounder David Friend said of the SpaceBelt concept. “To knock this thing out, you’d have to launch a bunch of satellite-killers.”
SpaceBelt will be built and operated by Cloud Constellation Corp., a Los Angeles startup run by satellite and telecom industry veterans.
Wasabi hopes to start launching satellites by 2019. Cloud Constellation has signed a contract with Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, which is developing LauncherOne, a rocket that will be fired from beneath the wing of a Boeing 747 in flight.
Wasabi will build SpaceBelt’s ground-based data-storage vaults, which will wirelessly connect to the space-based storage network.
Clifford Beek, Cloud Constellation’s chief executive, said that because SpaceBelt will use an entirely private data network, it will be less susceptible to hacking than cloud-based services connected to the earthbound Internet.
“We’re talking about taking highly sensitive information that needs to go from point A to point B,” Beek said, “and not having it exposed to any of the security flaws of the public networks or even the private networks.”
Friend is best known for cofounding another Boston cloud company, the data-backup firm Carbonite, which automatically copies vital data from home and business computers and preserves it on Internet-based servers.
Wasabi, his new company, offers large-scale online storage for businesses. Plenty of other firms do the same, including giants like Amazon.com and Microsoft Corp. But Wasabi says its proprietary system lets customers access their stored data six times faster. Wasabi also charges much less — about one-fifth the cost of its larger rivals. It opened for business last year and according to Friend has signed up 1,400 paying customers, with another 4,000 now testing the service.
“We’re not going to put Amazon out of business, that’s for sure,” Friend said. But he added that Wasabi is beginning to attract interest from big companies and government agencies that store gargantuan quantities of critical data. “We’re just starting to see the big multi-petabyte customers come in,” he said.
SpaceBelt will deploy a dozen satellites at first. Three will be data centers, capable of storing up to 12 petabytes of data — about 12,000 terabytes. The other nine will form a global network that will use lasers to talk to each other and to the orbiting data centers. By using lasers instead of radios, it will nearly impossible to intercept the transmissions, according to the company. In addition, the SpaceBelt satellites will never talk directly to Earth. Instead, they will relay data through communications satellites like those used to send TV signals.
When customers want to send or receive data, they will contact a Wasabi data vault, which will send the request to a communications satellite. The order would be relayed to the nearest SpaceBelt satellite, which in turn would use lasers to request the information from one of the network’s three orbital data centers. The data would be sent to the communications satellite, then down to the nearest Wasabi vault.
Beek said his company plans to charge $5,000 a month to store three terabytes of data. He said that a report from consulting company Grant Thornton estimated that companies with highly sensitive data would be willing to pay up to three times as much.
Beek estimates that building the basic SpaceBelt network will cost about $500 million. It’s money he doesn’t have; so far the company has announced an initial venture investment of just $5 million. But Beek hopes to close a much larger funding round by the end of March.
Glenn Lightsey, a professor of aerospace engineering at Georgia Tech, said SpaceBelt is possible because of the plummeting costs of satellites and the rockets needed to launch them.
“The price of access to space,” Lightsey said, “is a lower price point now than it was a decade ago, or a decade before that. And it’s continuing to go down.”
Even so, anything involving space travel remains expensive.
“I don’t know if there is enough of a market to pay the price,” Lightsey said. After all, there are ways to build highly secure private networks on Earth. Still, Lightsey said, “if your entire corporate future depends on the security of your data, then it might be worth it.”