Trouble in the city of clouds
what’s driving the shift towards decentralized storage?
Denial is the first step. When you tell people that one day they will own their data and companies like Google, Facebook, or Amazon will have to pay for it, they treat it as a naive dream. It’s a too radical change. What stands behind those, who believe in decentralization and death of the cloud? How would anyone force a switch from the big provider, who’s got its skin in the game, to an anonymous network with no central authority?
That is indeed a change too radical to be comprehended as plausible, but it has already started. As any technological revolution, it won’t be forced, but rather come to the threshold where it is inevitable. The change is gradual. Before it happens, we need several key pieces to fit.
Piece one: before we transfer data from the cloud to the decentralized network, we need something else — trust
Cloud providers have to be reliable. Reputation and trust are as crucial to their business as storage capacity and bandwidth. Yet the last couple of years has been not so good: Uber breached, Yahoo leaked, Equifax compromised.
Still billions of people and companies trust their data to several big players. Because there was no alternative, which combined both technological and social factors. Things changed.
In the previous centuries technology used to optimise production and logistics: make more, faster, cheaper — deliver all over the world. The technology of today optimizes social interactions: find a significant one by swiping right, connect with likeminded by hitting “tweet”, transfer value without borders using crypto.
It turns out there is a technological solution for the trust and security problem: decentralization + cryptography.
The best way to solve an engineering problem is to reconfigure the system in a way that makes it impossible to occur. That’s just it:
- Decentralized system has no single point of failure — no place to go to dump the whole base and get away with it.
- Encryption is an algorithmization of trust: you don’t need someone to make decision for you based their word, good PR, longevity on the market, or size of the client base. It’s based on the laws of physics and math — they can not be bribed, can not be broken. Encryption makes it impossible for anyone to access your data without permission — period.
Of course, technology alone is useless without those, who can use it, and a good reason to do so.
Piece two: people realizing that the data is something they own and it’s for them to decide, how to use it, and governments to empower this vision
Social initiatives like GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) that regulate data on a governmental level. People want to have control over information what, where, and how they behave on the web. Google makes millions by selling this info to anybody willing to use its ad services — not everyone is happy with that. Governmental support is essential here: as a user you can only switch to a different service (as if you had an alternative), but when a government makes rules, companies have to comply.
Another motivation for the change is the obsolete structure of technologies used as a de facto standard.
For example, HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) in the US leaves little room for the way and format in which to transfer patient’s data, the transfer itself still requers written permission from the patient. Also, the Act leaves undetermined the cost of the transfer services. Imagine, how frustrating and time consuming it feels, especially for the generation raised by interphases that require a maximum of 5 taps to get to the key action.
And that’s not just some angry citizens, the developing field of telemedicine demands a new layer of tech to safely work with patients data. This takes us to a final piece.
Piece three: business, which has a different approach to customer’s data, new set of values, and the money.
Companies emerge every day to create new services, or offer those, you can find today only at Amazon, or Google. Telemedicine is a new promising emerging market. Distributed work, fin-tech services, IoT. All of them work with tremendous amounts of data that has to be stored and processed somewhere. Apart from building services on top of user data, companies like GEO PIN, Datum, Streamr, or DataWallet aim to crate data marketplaces in new format. A whole new field of decentralized Apps has arrived.
Those new businesses treat the data differently than the early birds of the web. For Google, Amazon, Facebook the gargantuan amounts of data were more of a cumbersome and peculiar by product at first. It wasn’t at an instant when they understood, how to use it to an advantage. Of course, when they did, the advantage was only their own. Hence the nature and design of the tools they use and offer. Just remember that the AWS (which runs behind a decent part of the web-apps today) first was born out of Amazon’s need to remove growth constrains. It was designed with a set of values different from the ones the web is coming to adopt today and nourish tomorrow.
New companies are raised with an idea that data belongs to the user, that there’s no need to send message to some server in Norway, before it reaches its recipient, there is no need to risk storing it in some central space. Digitalize everything and give it to people.
This demand creates new use cases for data transfer, storage, and processing. A new market for companies that offer services AWS, or Azure could not and, most important, will not be able to in the nearest future due to their design and history.
How does it fit together?
- Technology, which doesn’t need a trusted authority to work.
- People, who want to restore ownership over their data and corporations to share their profits.
- Governments providing regulation.
- Businesses treating user data in a whole new way and willing to pay adoption costs for the new technology.
- Solutions that offer new tools in response.
- Current big players are losing millions due to data breaches. They are not losing customers just because there is no alternative yet.
Actually, the demand for these new services and products is so great, that a lot of people are willing to pay in advance to have them produced (by ICO and other crowdfunding mechanisms).
Does the grim future for the cloud still seems impossible now?