Decentralized storage allows one to store and retrieve files without having to rely on centralized companies. Instead of storing data on a handful of servers usually scattered across the country, a global peer-to-peer storage network enables benefits including speed, reliability, improved security, and reduced costs. As a bonus, this data is censorship resistant and the owner has full control of it.
To access information or data, a computer sends a request to a data center that provides the data. These massive data centers are incredibly powerful and robust, but tend to not be located near the downloader. In addition, often times one can only form a single connection with them, limiting upload and download speeds.
Some decentralized file storage solutions, such as Archon and Storj, allow for parallelized downloads. This means that every file can potentially be downloaded from a number of hosts across the network simultaneously. Furthermore, these nodes can be routed closer to the downloader than centralized hubs, allowing downloaders to establish a connection quicker and receive their files faster. The caveat to this is that the speed of the network is dependent on the size of the network, and it will take some time before decentralized file storage networks get to the size and scale that can compete with centralized solutions.
Existing centralized solutions are quite reliable, but are still at risk to single points of failure. For example, in 2017, a human error by an Amazon employee caused several prominent websites to temporarily go down.
In decentralized solutions, files can be copied multiple times and stored in case an error occurs when transmitting data — similar to centralized solutions. Some decentralized storage companies have begun to implement erasure codes. They essentially take a file, encode it using erasure codes, and split it into hundreds or thousands of pieces, distributing them to various unrelated nodes. Storj calls this process “shredding,” while Archon calls it “filesharding.” These companies utilize this process to help recreate an original file with any subset of these distributed shards. These systems theoretically make it extremely difficult to cause any meaningful disruptions — attempting to maliciously attack the network could cost a would-be attacker upwards of millions of dollars. It’s noteworthy that each node holding the shards is significantly weaker than centralized enterprise servers, but can be stronger overall once the network is more robust.
A corollary to reliability is file security. We trust 3rd parties to secure our most sensitive and private data — only some of which is encrypted. Even with an increased focus on security in recent years, there have been numerous data breaches with varying consequences.
- Equifax Data Breach — Over $400 MM in data costs
- Facebook Cambridge Analytica — 87M user data leaked
- iCloud hack of 2014 — Brute force hack with 500 passwords
- Dropbox hack of 2012 — 68M passwords leaked
Decentralized storage networks operate in a similar manner, but with further advanced cryptography, encryption, and permission control. Some networks make it so that only the user who is uploading the data has access to it using their private encryption key with asymmetric encryption. Other networks that employ sharding techniques make it so that files are just a fraction of their original self, meaning an individual needs to hack multiple sources to be able to read its content. In addition, new research is being done in the field of threshold encryption, allowing for increased security where unless enough individuals can provide a threshold number of shards, nobody can obtain any information about the original file.
Although the cost of storage is getting less expensive over time, the global cloud storage market is expected to grow to to over $100 BN by 2022, and companies all around the world are paying more than ever.
- Pinterest paid $190 MM on AWS last year, $20MM more than it had initially expected (a ~40% increase YoY)
- Adobe’s AWS bill rose ~60%, Capital One ~70%, Intuit ~90%
One of the reasons for this is there is more data being stored & accessed than ever before. In addition, there really aren’t many alternative solutions available. Decentralized file storage saves money because the uploader pays the storage provider directly, rather than going through a centralized middleman that aims to capture a profit. Storage cost overhead is reduced, and finding the right storage provider for the right price is enabled through marketplaces.
5) Control of Data and Censorship Resistance
One of the more ethical reasons to employ decentralized storage is the ability to control one’s own data. Centralized companies have broad jurisdiction to censor individuals or their data, provide information to governments or even sell customer data to advertisers. Even with new regulations such as GDPR, service providers design their privacy policies in a manner that still allows them to access, search, and share customer data legally.
Decentralized storage solves this by allowing individuals to once again control their data. Users can be at ease knowing that no one can share or sell their data without their permission and on some networks files can be stored permanently, without any fear of removal.
All in all, this emerging technology has a lot to offer — it’s potentially cheaper, faster, more secure and censorship resistant, and more distributed than existing cloud storage solutions. However, in order for blockchain-based decentralized storage to succeed, there must be better large-scale adoption by end-users and developers, better UX, as well as more features for advanced use-cases.
The evolution of decentralized file storage from Siacoin, the old Storj, IPFS to newer entrants like Filecoin, the new StorjV3 (which is a significant revamp of their architecture), and Archon, a promising new entrant in the space, shows how this industry is constantly improving. The decentralized storage industry is still at in its infancy and I look forward to seeing its progress in 2019.
Try them out yourself from their official pages:
StorjV3: https://storj.io/#waitlist (Waitlist only. V3 is not out yet. More info here.)
Filecoin: https://filecoin.io/blog/getting-started-with-filecoin-repos-and-devnets/ (Not out yet, expected soon by Q2–Q3 2019.)
Archon: https://www.archon.cloud/ (Not out yet, Beta Network expected March 31, 2019)
About the Author:
Will is a San Francisco native who graduated from USC with a degree in Business Administration. He’s has experience with business development accelerators, venture capital, corporate innovation, and startups of various stages and scale. He currently handles Business Operations and Product at Archon.