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The Origin Story of 45 Drives

Brett tells the origin story of 45 Drives and the partnership between Backblaze and parent company Protocase.

Everyone Brett Kelly here for another 45Drives Tuesday Tech Tip, except this week, it's less of a tip and more of a story people ask all the time. And we love telling the story, frankly. Where do you come from, what is the origin story of 45 Drives? So let's get into it.

All right, so the story begins with Protocase. For those who are unaware Protocase (I am wearing the hat today) is 45Drives’ parent company. Protocase is a custom manufacturer of sheet metal enclosure parts and CNC components. And they specialize in the one-off kind of custom market for scientists, engineers and innovators. Protocase has been in business since 2001, supplying sheet metal enclosure and CNC parts to some of the largest players in the technological innovation field all across the world.

And then in comes Backblaze. A lot of you've probably heard of Backblaze. Awesome backup service and cloud service. They offer great people, great service. They had an idea for an open server design. And this idea kind of became the underlying ethos of 45Drives as well, of this idea of open source is the way to go. It is an awesome alternative to the proprietary giants, whether that be software or hardware. Anyway, so Backblaze had this crazy idea for a storage pod. They built themselves a wooden copy of a wooden prototype in their kitchen.

And they came to Protocase and said, “hey, can you make this reality?” And the wonderful people at Protocase made it a reality. So the collaboration has begun. Protocase took Backblaze's wooden server design that they literally built in their kitchen, made it a reality with nice cold rolled steel and everyone was happy.

So where do we go next? Will this open the door for a couple of bright entrepreneurial minds, the leaders of Backblaze and leaders of Protocase to say, “what more can we do with this? This we love this idea. Let's get to server in people's hands.”

So Backblaz open the design. Their intention was never to be a manufacturer. They wanted to build a cloud service and go from there. So they said, Protocase designs open. If people want to buy, the server will point them towards you. You can manufacture them, you can build them and you can send them out to them.

OK, so at this point, these servers were designed exactly for Backblaze’s specific application. Backblaze was building a humongous cloud, think cloud storage, think Ceph. But they did it their own way. They implemented their own Clustering solution. Really impressive. I got to tour the data center wants really, really, really cool spot. Actually, I think just the other week they put a little press release saying that they finally hit an exabyte.

But the point was these things are in a massive cluster. So the reliability of certain parts, like a single power supply or all the back planes they used, sometimes if used, maybe not the most reliable. A couple of single points of failure. Failure, right. Well, in a massive cluster, as I've talked about before, you don't care about that. Just pop new parts. So where the idea on the Protocase side was, we are selling this more as a general purpose server product rather than a specific use case for cluster unit.

We had so to removed some of these single points of failure and some other design changes. So that's where kind of where 45Drives was born at this point. We introduced a fork in the design where they kept using the Backblaze's design. Same chassis, but the internals were a bit different and we went a different route with it, added redundant power supplies, different HBA cards. We moved to the direct-wired design. We talk about that in the video so we won't get into it there. But at that point kind of marks the beginning of the fork of where the open design did exactly what we're supposed to do, inspired interest, ideas, innovators.

And we made a new product from it and 45Drives was born from there. That's the origin story of 45 Drives in a nutshell. And since then, we've got to do some amazing things. We've migrated from just a product company to a solution company. We've brought in hardware, software developers, a full service team. And instead of just selling storage boxes to you guys, we can sell solutions.

And thanks to the watchers, the fans, the customers who don't watch these videos, your interest and belief in our idea that there is an alternative is why we all get to be here and keep doing this. So proud to be a part of a company like this and really proud to get to share the story with everyone.

All right. So that's it. Thanks for watching. Hope you enjoyed the story. And one other thing I want to add, if you, someone out there watching has a Backblaze idea, they have something like, you know what, I think this could be something. You want a custom box. You want you want your own idea realized — reach out to Protocase. They would be more than happy to work with design work just the same way that we did with Backblaze. We can design there. We can assemble through 45 Drives and provide you with your wonderful inspired idea.

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