The Real “Personal” Cloud – Younity Decouples Access And Storage

Speaking with Erik Caso, CEO of Younity, it is clear that he and his company have focused intensely on the definition and implementation of the “personal cloud,” with emphasis on the word “personal.”

For many in the industry, “personal” clouds are thought to be cloud offerings aimed at individuals. So this would include the Dropboxes and iClouds of the world.

Caso, however, views these as “public clouds.” “Your data is stored along with everyone else’s,” he points out.

Underlying Issue: De-Couple Storage From Access

There is something much more profound at issue than a mere definitional controversy. Younity believes that, in the age of the multiple-device-individual, computing needs to upgrade to the point of “de-coupling storage from access.”

He points out that users are overwhelmingly adopting multiple devices. This creates silos where individual’s data and media may be parked. Finding a given item then becomes a matter of remembering where it was stored – on a phone, computer, tablet, or with a cloud storage vendor.

Younity’s objective is to allow the user to access any given item of data, regardless of where it is stored. It accomplishes this by creating a single pool or cloud of “metadata,” so that any given item can be accessed from any device at any time. As Caso puts it, “There is no such thing as an item being ‘over there.’ Everything is unified across devices.” Note that none of the individual’s content is stored remotely with Younity.

Using Younity

To use Younity, one must install the app on all the devices that one wishes to have access to. This might include, for a typical user, a laptop, tablet, smartphone and perhaps some other mobile device or devices.

The Younity capability becomes embedded in the various OSs of the devices. The startup process of installing the app is described by Caso as simple. However, it takes a certain amount of time and compute resources, as it employs a patented process for siphoning off the “metadata” of all types of files – music, video, data, etc. – in each device.

“We are CPU hogs,” Caso states, when the installation takes place, but thereafter “we use only a tiny amount of compute power, 0.1% of the CPU.”

Younity Focus: Consumers

Younity is focused entirely on the consumer market. In Caso’s view, cloud choices for enterprises are fairly clear: They will opt either to use public clouds or develop their own private clouds.

However, consumers, he believes, are either relatively uninformed, or confused, about clouds. Dropbox has over 400 million registered users (not including 100,000 paying business users) and it is estimated there are 500 million iCloud users. This is not any indication, however, of how many are active monthly users.

Caso points to studies that indicate that a limited amount of consumer files are actually put into a cloud. (Gartner had stated that it estimated that only 7% of consumer data was stored in the cloud as of 2012, but that this would rise to about 36% in 2016. See: “Gartner: 1/3 of consumer data will be stored in the cloud by ’16,” Network World, 6/25/12.)

Nonetheless Younity does not view itself as attacking the cloud storage industry. Caso says that, “Dropbox, for example, is a valuable service,” pointing out that Younity needs a backup for cases, such as where the user is searching for an item that is on a device that is currently turned off.

Other Features

One of the other significant features of Younity is that it enables information to be received on a device even if the information is in a format that the device OS would not normally accept. “We have to transcode on the fly,” Caso explains. “We do all the heavy lifting.”

Caso says that Younity holds two “major patents,” with others pending.

Younity also allows sharing of files with friends who also have the app. They have an “ephemeral” sharing feature that auto-deletes the shared file in seven days and also disables downloading or re-sharing of the file.

Cloud Storage – Business Models

Regarding the state of the cloud storage business, there is limited money to be made in storage, which has quickly become a commodity business. Caso observes that the majors, such as Apple, Google, Amazon “all want your content.” However, it is not for the storage dollars, but rather for the opportunity to sell other items to you or enmesh you in their ecosystem.

This raises the issue of how Younity will make money. Younity is still in beta at this time. Since it is not a storage-based service, Caso states that they are using the remainder of 2015 to test various direct revenue streams. These may involve approaches such as offering premium features for a charge, or charging for certain aspects of sharing data with friends.

Bottom Line

While there are other companies that offer forms of non-storage based personal clouds, our take is that Younity has moved to the forefront with its technology for de-coupling storage and access as well as its ability to move information between incompatible devices.

Defining the revenue model for this innovation appears to us to be the trickiest part. Caso asserts that they “will be monetizing aggressively by the first half of 2016.” However, our inclination is that Younity’s approach may be more valuable for its potential of being incorporated into the OSs of computing devices rather than for supporting a standalone personal cloud business.

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