Decentralised cloud storage might be the future of data storage and it appears that the future is coming sooner than expected. With the internet itself, a centralised ecosystem monopolised by a cartel of tech giants such as Amazon, Microsoft and Google, data stored in it via the cloud becomes exposed to and at risk of attacks. This necessitates an alternative data storage option in which data remains accessible but is kept safer and more secure and not under the control of big online entities.
Such is the underlying premise of decentralised cloud storage, which is being driven by the emergence of, and advancements in blockchain technology. But before diving in on the benefits of this alternative data storage option, it is best to take a look first at what exactly is decentralised storage and how it works.
Decentralised Cloud Storage Explained
Decentralised cloud storage is one in which users store parts of their data in multiple locations or servers (in a process called “sharding”) hosted not by a company like Microsoft but by people. These individuals hosting the servers are bound by smart contracts—a defining feature of blockchain—that keep them honest and prevent them from snooping in or tampering with the data stored in their servers. Users, on the other hand, are incentivised to use these people-hosted servers by the many benefits of doing so (as will be discussed a bit later). Data is then accessed by retrieving its different parts and reassembling them back into the original.
Here is a diagram that explains how data is stored on a decentralised cloud:
Benefits of Decentralised Data Storage
The following are the advantages of storing files in a decentralised system:
Data is more secure and kept private. The traditional centralised system gives the hosts a great deal of power in that they can potentially eavesdrop on data being stored and even disclose them to third parties. This same model is also vulnerable to cyber attacks that can result in a data breach or complete loss. These issues are addressed by decentralised storage, mainly because data is stored in different nodes as fragments, making it near impossible to snoop in on them, disclose them to others or hack them. Data is also encrypted, thereby adding another layer of protection. This is by far the biggest benefit of this modern storage model.
File loss is minimised considerably. There are thousands of nodes all around the world already and millions more coming in the near future. This ensures redundancy in which multiple copies of each data fragment are stored on different nodes. Users will thus be able to access a file even if a node or two are unavailable at any given moment or in case there are transmission errors. In other words, a single file can have countless copies.
Download speeds are faster. Traditional client-server data storage models are prone to network bottlenecks during instances of high network traffic, or when traffic is more than what the network can accommodate. But with decentralised data storage utilising peer-to-peer technology, the need for a central server is eliminated. In its place are countless nodes where data shards are stored. Users can therefore bypass using a central server when downloading their files and instead retrieve the data fragments from their respective nodes. Fewer bottlenecks in turn mean faster downloads.
Files are easier to transfer. Since data shards are stored in various nodes worldwide, file transfers in decentralised cloud storage are easier and more convenient regardless of distance. In other words, data will be available to users anywhere they are on the globe since information fragments are generally stored in over 80 different nodes, with only 30 required to reconstitute a particular file.
Decentralised storage data is cost-efficient. A big reason why this model is less expensive is due to it having a marketplace of vendors willing to offer high-quality storage space and this then results in healthy competition that drives down pricing. Additionally, data in decentralised storage is brought right at the users’ endpoints, further lowering costs.
Players in Decentralised Storage
There are already numerous players in the decentralised storage sphere, with plenty more on the way. But the most well-known so far are as follows:
Filecoin is part of the Interplanetary File System (IPFS), and it is using its single blockchain mainly for data storage and partly for data distribution. It launched a successful ICO back in 2017 and is an emerging leader in decentralised data storage.
Formerly Storj, Tardigrade is entirely reliant on the Ethereum network and designed specifically for data storage. Tardigrade shards and encrypts files and distributes them to numerous nodes around the world. It is open-source at the moment, though indexing remains centralised.
While a relative newbie in the industry, StorX is nonetheless demonstrating why decentralised data storage is fast becoming an appealing storage solution. It can be accessed via a desktop app, has a native blockchain with fast throughput and is reliant on proof of stake technology. It also offers standardised pricing and enables users to function as both host and client compared to the more restrictive Filecoin in which users can only interact with IPFS.
Like StorX, PPIO is relatively new in the industry, too, but is making enormous headway in establishing and refining its decentralised platform. Its focus, however, is providing support for live streaming and mainstream video-on-demand and currently offering PPIO TestNet.
The Next Frontier
With exabytes of data projected to be created in the coming years, a mechanism for storing them will become a necessity more and more. This is the reason experts are forecasting the data storage market to exceed USD $80 billion in the next four years. It is also the reason why decentralised data storage might potentially enter the mainstream moving forward, especially given its advantages in privacy, security, redundancy, downloadability and cost-efficiency.