Latticework Launches Personal Hybrid Cloud for Private Data-Sharing

Were you aghast at revelations that third-party organizations were able to capture millions of Facebook profiles from users who were unaware of the company’s privacy policy terms? If so, a Silicon Valley startup is hoping to entice you with a new option for private data storage of your personal digital life, along with private channels for sharing videos and other information with your inner circle of friends—and close control over who else gets access to them.

It’s a pretty tall order for a startup to build a consumer data storage service to rival services like Dropbox, combined with a social network as an alternative to Facebook, for millions of people. But Sunnyvale, CA-based Latticework has some unusual advantages. It was founded, and largely funded, by Pantas Sutardja, co-founder of digital storage pioneer Marvell Technology Group (NASDAQ: MRVL), which now boasts a market capitalization of $10.8 billion and product lines in networking and connectivity as well as semiconductors.

Latticework has about 100 employees, and the product it is launching today has been under development for three years. Sutardja is offering consumers a “personal hybrid cloud storage platform,” whose core element is a cube-like home server called Amber, costing $549. It’s about six and a half inches to a side, and packs as much as four terabytes of memory. Amber can store and stream family videos to a home TV, Sutardja (pictured above) says. The server, which weighs five pounds, can also share video and other files over the Internet, with coordination from a proprietary cloud service called LatticeNest. The third element of Latticework’s product is a companion app for mobile devices or home computers, where users keep track of their own files stored in Amber, as well as anything sent to them from members of their personal networks.

Sutardja, who left Marvell in 2014 after 20 years at the company, says he then took a year to think about what he wanted to do next. He settled on giving consumers an alternative to Web-based services that “want to suck all your data into the cloud.”

“Myself, I am an intensely private person,” Sutardja says. He doesn’t like to upload his photos to commercial storage sites. He has acquired three of Amazon’s Echo Dots, which were given away to him at tech conferences, and says he has never turned any of them on. “The microphone is always listening,” he says. “It’s kind of scary.”

Sutardja says consumers are drawn to existing Web-based services because they’re convenient to use, though they come at a cost to privacy. Users shouldn’t have to make that trade-off, he says.

His network is designed for small-scale sharing with people known to the user, rather than for appealing to a mass audience. “We don’t intend to become Facebook,” Sutardja says. He won’t discourage Amber owners from putting some of their content out on Facebook or YouTube, or uploading data to a commercial cloud storage space. But they won’t have to upload it all, if they have a private server where the data can stay while the consumer decides what to do with it, he says.

When he conceived of his new startup, the first problem Sutardja says he wanted to solve was the inadequacy of smartphone memory as a receptacle for data storage. “You always manage to use it all up,” he says.

Amber server models come with memory capacity in the range of one to four terabytes. That’s roomier than a smartphone: one terabyte is a thousand times the capacity of a gigabyte (GB). Sutardja says a person with a 128 GB smartphone will fill up that memory in about a year, but might go five years before they fill a terabyte.

The second problem Sutardja wanted to solve was the limited bandwidth on Internet connections, which conflicts with the growing demand for streaming video and other data-rich media such as virtual reality. This conflict will drive actively shared content to edge devices such as Amber, he predicts.

Amber is not only a storage device, but is also an edge computing device that can perform tasks without the help of Web-based applications, Sutardja says. It can index data stored inside it by file types, such as PDFs. By the end of the year, the server will be able to use facial recognition software to search its stored archives of photos and videos for all files featuring a particular person, he says. The device can serve as a media player, streaming video to a TV monitor via home networks. And through media transcoding, it can allow streaming at a lower bandwidth to adapt to the limits of an Internet connection.

For now, Amber works using standard chips—“Intel plain vanilla stuff,” Sutardja says. But in about two years, he expects to see a series of small neural net chips come on the market, and plans to incorporate them into Amber.

What if an Amber is stolen? Sutardja has been asked. People worried about the theft of their home server can opt for double back-up, both on the Amber cube and in the cloud storage space that comes with their LatticeNest account.

Latticework is beginning its marketing campaign for the network by seeking buyers for Amber through a pre-order offering beginning this week, with first shipments of the server expected in October. There is no charge for a subscription to the cloud service or the companion app.

Sutardja expects that Latticework will bring in recurring revenue as repeat customers buy new Amber models with new features, either to replace or augment their old ones. The company also plans to offer expanded backup storage on LatticeNest for a fee.

The key target population for early adoption is women who like to save photos and videos of their children, as well as all families with small kids, Sutardja says. When those Amber owners share something with a friend, the friend will receive an invitation to sign up for a free LatticeNest account with 2GB of data storage. That way, they can share their own content back to the Amber user, or to anyone with a LatticeNest account, even if they don’t buy an Amber. Friends who don’t sign up can still receive shared files from an Amber owner through an anonymous link.

Eventually, Latticework will open LatticeNest sign-ups to anyone, and begin a drive to attract hundreds of millions of … Next Page »

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Bernadette Tansey is Xconomy's San Francisco Editor. You can reach her at btansey@xconomy.com. Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

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