April 23, 2011
If recent events in the cloud storage community have taught us anything, it’s that Engineering Matters. Features essential to you, to your life, cannot be treated as something to worry about later. We’re founded on principles that security and trust do not have to exclude convenience from modern computer use, and we are dismayed by the prevailing thought that it does.
What do we sell? We sell trust. Trust that a cup of coffee won’t wipe out the only copy of your child’s first steps that you captured on your digicam. Trust that you can back up your tax returns without anyone being able to read it. Trust that when it hits the fan, we will have your data safe and secure. That is what we sell, at the core. Trust is an integral, central part of the system. It’s engineered in, every line of Python, every system API call, every system architecture wiki page. Your data cannot be allowed to leave SpiderOak through an act of God or man without your explicit action to make it do so, and we sell you the trust that it won’t.
Placing trust as the central core of the system fundamentally changes how one architects it. The system is first and foremost engineered to be secure and trustworthy. All the fun features in the world will not change the core, fundamental design principles set into the architecture of the system, and given form through solid and tireless engineering. We engineer into the system the expectation that bad things will happen to good disk platters, and design around that. No amount of high-level policy and vague promises of security can replace solid, engineered-in trust. There may be stumbles and falls on the long journey to this combination of trust and ease of use, but that is testament to the fact that we care more about solving the hard problem – trust in your data that transcends hardware and humans – than quick cheap tick-boxes on the feature list.
This is a great new frontier, an amazing and wonderful time in history where mainframe style computing in the data center is meeting the smartphone in your hand somewhere in the middle, and everything Star Trek promised you is starting to come true. We’re moving into an age where instant-access, anywhere access to any information you want is no longer a Hollywood dream, but daily reality. How many of you will be reading this on a phone with smaller size and much higher capability than Kirk’s communicator? Now is when we can stop complaining that things just aren’t possible, and instead move to the wondering when it will be done!
As we move forward, however, how is this always-on, instant-access society impacting you? Do you not expect that the enablers of this magic to take you seriously, with your needs as an individual? Why does adding the phrase “on the internet” suddenly imply that it’s OK to be lax about trust? You have a file store at home: your computer’s hard drive. For those of us renting, we pay someone (the landlord) to house it. How would you react if your landlord or a maintenance man plugged your hard drive into his laptop and downloaded a copy of everything just because some man in a suit asked him to? Why does “file store on the internet” mean anything different? Why should we instantly relax our standards just because it’s online and shiny?
If this sounds like a manifesto, that’s because it is. At the core of this future is the bedrock we lay down today. What you will have tomorrow, the freedoms and limitations of tomorrow, are set in concrete form with the foundations of today. That is the point of this message, that engineering matters! Core design principles will outlive any set of bugs in an implementation, and that is what we do here. Our core is trust, our core is security, our core is safety. The engineering of the system now will have a direct impact for years to come.
In a world of talk, Engineering Matters.