With the rising interest in blockchain technology, so too has interest risen for the one killer Blockchain app. We believe that the blockchain killer app will be decentralized storage technology. From solving our challenges of safely storing data to not having all our personal info in the hands of a few monolithic entities, decentralized storage has the potential to be both disruptive and help usher in even greater use of blockchain technology.
What Is Decentralized Storage?
When it comes to data storage, here are our options:
- Physical media. Think HDDs to share films with friends or USB thumb drives for small file storage.
- Centralized cloud storage. Our data is hosted on a central cloud owned and operated by someone that isn’t you. Your data belongs to them. Sometimes it isn’t even safe.
On the other hand, decentralized cloud storage is where data is stored on a decentralized network across multiple locations by users or groups who are incentivized to join, store, and keep data accessible. The servers used are hosted by people, rather than a single company. Anyone is free to join, they are kept honest due to smart contracts, and they are incentivized to participate via tokens.
There are several reasons for the advent of decentralized storage over centralized cloud storage.
- Data breaches: Just about all the major players have had data breaches in the last few years.
- Data outages: Dreaded DDoS attacks can leave you and millions of others without data.
- Rising storage costs: This means high bandwidth transmission costs, as well as increased data security costs as centralized storage, is easier to attack.
- Lack of ownership: Your personal private data is not owned only by you.
- Censorship and monitoring: While there are some benefits associated with this, many people disagree with censorship and surveillance especially if it approaches Orwellian levels.
Furthermore, with the industry expected to reach 101+ billion by 2023, there is a significant need for these problems to be solved. We, like many others, believe decentralized cloud storage can do that.
How Does Decentralized Storage Work?
For context, let’s compare centralized cloud storage with the decentralized alternative.
Via the internet, users can upload and download files to/from the data server, which forwards/receives the data from multiple servers. In the case of data failure, numerous servers housed in a centralized location are needed. When there are various servers, data ideally should always be accessible during maintenance. In terms of security, when files are in transit from your PC to the server, they are typically encrypted with at least 128-bit SSL technology. Once on the servers, they can be encrypted 256-bit encryption. However, despite the security, only the storage platform holds the encryption key, not you.
On the other hand, decentralized storage means the files are stored on multiple computers (called nodes) on a decentralized network. Like with conventional cloud storage, when you need the file, you can request it and receive the file. Requesting your file works similarly to BitTorrent and other P2P clients where you download fragments of that file from participants in the network until you have the full file.
But that doesn’t mean those holding your files can read them. Instead, decentralized storage automatically encrypts files and only you hold the encryption key, guaranteeing your files can only be read by you. Furthermore, through a process of sharding, no single person holding your files has the entirety of it, thus adding an extra layer of security and protection.
Unlike centralized cloud storage which keeps data in a central point based on a location that might not be near you (resulting in users competing for bandwidth), the nature of decentralized storage means data distribution and retrieval is handled by nearby peers regardless of physical location. This results in higher transfer speeds due to utilizing local network bandwidth.
Benefits Compared to Centralized Storage
Low Storage Costs
With potentially millions of nodes hosting your data, the amount of available storage is significantly higher. This, in turn, leads to substantially lower costscompared to existing centralized cloud storage platforms.
Fair Market Prices
Due to continuous competition amongst the nodes (including the fact that only high-quality nodes will survive this competition), fair market prices can be achieved.
Traditional Client-Servers often result in network bottlenecks if traffic is larger than the network can handle. By employing P2P technology and eliminating a central server, multiple copies are stored on different nodes, therefore allowing more copies of the data which then leads to faster download speeds.
Greater Security and Privacy
Not only is data encrypted, but because the encrypted data is sharded and then split amongst participating nodes, no one person will be able to access your data or even know what you are storing.
Minimal File Loss
With potentially millions of participating nodes, extra copies of your data can be stored in case of transmission errors.
Who Is Working On Decentralized Storage?
With the enormous potential that decentralized cloud storage offers, several names have stepped up to the plate with their own platforms. Here are a few of the many players.
Perhaps the best-known thanks to being part of the Interplanetary File System (IPFS), a protocol that delivers information based on what it is instead of where it is. Based on their own single blockchain, Filecoin is focusing on data storage and distribution, though the main focus is on the storage side of things rather than that of distribution. Even with a successful ICO in 2017, they are still working on a finished product. Expect it sometime in the next year.
Built on the Ethereum network, Storj (now Tardigrade), is designed entirely for storage scenarios. Storj works by splitting and encrypting files on the client side before being distributed across thousands of nodes around the world. Storj is open sourced with the storage side being completely decentralized, though at this stage settlement and indexing are centralized. Developers can now test their data storage capabilities on their alpha network.
A relative newcomer to the game but a strong contender, PPIO is hard at work building a decentralized storage and delivery platform. Captained by the same group that created PPTV, the team is currently focusing on developing, on the application layer, support for mainstream video-on-demand and live streaming solutions. The PPIO TestNet is presently operational with future developments happening later in the year.
Want to dive deeper and to understand the differences between several decentralized storage platforms? Read the ultimate guide for understanding the differences between PPIO, Filecoin, and Storj.
One of the most prominent players in the game, Siacoin has consistently ranked highly on Altcoin lists thanks to pairing their coin with a usable product. Taking genesis from a HackMIT 2013 Hackathon, over the years Sia has continued to grow with the ultimate goal of becoming the “backbone storage layer of the Internet.” As of March, Sia has launched version 1.4.0 with significant changes to the code for better performance.
Just like Filecoin, MaidSafe has ambitious goals for the future. MaidSafe is 13 years in the making and hard at work creating a decentralized internet. MaidSafe ensures that any file uploaded to their SAFE network is fully encrypted. Furthermore, files are not stored on any servers preventing third parties from accessing your files. MaidSafe launched their Alpha 2 in 2017 which also includes a browser, web hosting manager, and mail client.
Not too dissimilar to Storj, Swarm is hard at work developing a decentralized storage platform based on the Ethereum web3 stack. Like the other players pursuing decentralized storage, Swarm wholeheartedly believes in a decentralized future and are building several base layer services for web3 that support this. They are on target to deliver their product beta pre-release sometime in 2019.
BURST previously made waves by developing the world’s first Proof of Capacity coin and the first blockchain to implement Turing complete smart contracts. BURST is first working on plotting hard drive space; later it will use this space for storage. In the short-term, they are working on a cross-platform mobile wallet called Phoenix, and in the long-term their PoC3 Protocol.
In addition to some of the names listed above, other groups hard at work on different types of storage solutions. These include Lambda, Genaro, TOP Network, TrustSQL, 0Chain, ThunderChain, ArchonCloud, Internxt, OneThing Cloud, and more.
Potential Hurdles for Decentralized Storage
Despite the great potential that decentralized storage platforms offer, there are still several obstacles in the way in terms of development and adoption.
- From a development perspective, consensus proofs are complicated to implement, and everything needs to be accounted for stability and performance.
- Businesses (more than consumers) can be distrustful of decentralized storage due to the lack of legal accountability if files are lost or breached. The security of a decentralized network must be paramount which is something all developers are working on.
- As the technology will remain in development for years to come, there are apparent performance issues that make it hard for consumers and businesses to begin migrating over to a decentralized network immediately.
- For decentralized cloud storage options to increase in popularity, they need to be able to deliver a superior service to what the market currently offers. However, as the technology is still in its infancy we are several years away from that happening; thus it will remain a niche for some time to come.
Hopefully, between now and the time each platform is fully operational, these issues can be solved. Click here for a different view of some of the problems facing Blockchain-based storage platforms.
Sum It All Up
Given both the meteoric rise of Blockchain technology (due to no small part of Bitcoin) and our ever-growing need for storage, it’s only natural that many companies are combining the two to deliver a stand out platform. It’s still early days in this burgeoning industry, but that doesn’t stop us from feeling excited for what’s next.