The digital world is a wild and wonderful space. With ever-changing technologies always updating and adding to the color palate, it can be hard to stay abreast of all the new and exciting terminology, tech, and concepts out on today’s market.
To keep yourself informed of these new advancements, it is ideal to break down the vocabulary and understand these new ideas and how they may be unique tools you can put to work for your needs.
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One of the most difficult aspects of the world wide web is storing and securing your data. Nearly every person and organization, whether in the private or public sector, have a need to store information. How you store data matters.
From its ability to remain secure to its accessibility for daily needs and processes, there is always a power struggle. On one hand, you want your data to be easy to access for the proper persons. If your employees (or even yourself) have to jump through 15 different hoops just to log into your systems, chances are you are really only going to create frustrations and anger.
On the other hand, you have a need to put security measures into place that, yes, may reduce convenience, but keep your data safe. An always double-edged sword, data storage, and its security is a topic many have tried to solve in many ways.
From the methods you store your data, to data storage companies creating countless products, services, software, and hardware, to advancements in how the digital world handles data at, there has been a significant increase in overall data storage methods and concepts.
As cyber criminals become more and more sophisticated, so too must the security measures. One of the new methods of keeping such file storage, data sharing, and internal processes safe is decentralized storage.
What Is Decentralization?
If you have become somewhat familiar with the new, budding business of cryptocurrency and NFTs, it is likely you have heard of decentralization. The concept, which has taken the online world by storm, is the core tech at the center of these spaces.
Decentralizing finance, for example, has provided an entirely new industry for crypto. Buyers, sellers, and traders are able to exchange a form of finance without a centralized authority. For so long, big businesses such as banks, tech giants, and even governments have been at the center (both literally and figuratively) of industries like finance.
In today’s tech-centered world, there is an ironic concept to decentralize such power in order to increase security, distribute “power,” add to transparency, and create a new world order, so to speak, in order to create a new, entire system.
Let’s explore this entire network and how it works in a new, unique way different from the traditional cloud storage providers of the old. When it comes to data storage, decentralized storage may offer a safe network with pros and cons for the struggle.
To understand what decentralization brings to data storage, let’s first understand what decentralization is and how it works. In traditional data storage methods, centralized cloud storage or centralized, a physical server is operated in order to keep data safe. That concept varies within itself, from centralized cloud storage operated by individuals to centralized cloud storage services, programs, and companies, there have been years of allowing a single location, single point, or single company to control an entire system of data.
In today’s modernization efforts, developers have found additional security in a new method of decentralized storage. Decentralized storage networks operate by allowing a series of devices to store information. The network distributes files among the network’s users.
A decentralized storage system operates on the same technology that the crypto world relies on blockchain technology. In terms of crypto or NFTs, the blockchain is a distributed ledger. It is a transparent log showing all of the transactions of the cryptocurrency. It is a list of all of its comings and goings.
Those same principles are now being used in data storage. Utilizing a decentralized network of users, data is not stored in a single place, but rather in a virtual storage space that is distributed among many.
In a blockchain, data is stored in virtual “cubes” of information known as blocks. These storage nodes hold the information the user wants to keep safe. It is linked together in a series, chronologically, known as a chain.
These blocks are immutable in nature. No person can change the contents of the block. Once it is locked into the chain, it cannot be altered in any way.
Decentralization as Storage
Using that same blockchain network, users are applying the same key concepts to data storage options. Let’s create an analogy for comparison. If data is a pie, you can consider how you want to store that pie.
You may opt to leave the pie whole, simply placing it on the counter. You may decide this is not very secure, and you can enclose that pie in a sealed box. The pie is still whole. It is somewhat secure, but it is in one place, with one authority (let’s say this box) overseeing its safety.
Alternatively, you may decide that the best way to keep the pie safe is instead to slice it into pieces. You break up the pie, store one in a sealed container on the counter, one at a friend’s house, one in a storefront display, one locked in a safe, and so on. You have technically “decentralized” your pie.
You could opt to bring the pie all back together. You could regather all of the slices and put them back together. The pie could become “whole” again, but for safety’s sake, you’ve split up the pieces.
Similarly, decentralized storage typically operates through a system of encryption and coding tech. By breaking your data into many pieces, there is a theory that the data is now safer. It can be put back together if you have the proper keys to reassemble it.
Without those encryption keys, the data is a scrambled mess of confusion. With them, you can put the pieces back together to make sense of the data stored. A decentralized system, much like our “pie,” distributes your data across spaces.
Beyond the technical side of how decentralization works, there is a value system at play in this type of storage solution. Those in the decentralized storage marketplace also value a peer-to-peer network. They aim to cut out the “middle man” and move away from a centralized authority.
When crypto was created, for example, the idea was to permit the freedom to exchange finances without the government or banking industry interfering in the process. Likewise, the concept of file storage through decentralization offers a method of data security without a tech giant being in charge of your information.
There are millions of storage devices on the market, but most of them create available storage space but store that information in centralized data centers. Let’s say your Google Drive, for example. Countless individuals and even big businesses rely on this tech to store data. As a storage provider, its free storage services are more than appealing.
And, there is a sense of security in a tech giant like Google. People trust the brand. As storage providers compete for your business, it is a winner, for sure. Google’s cloud service providers offer access from multiple locations with centralized cloud solutions.
However, cloud storage providers like Google technically have authority over your data in these cases. By agreeing to massive amounts of “fine print” in the terms of service, such cloud storage services may be reliable and secure but are ultimately a storage system owned and operated by another.
Google has the right to oversee that data. They may have access internally, not to mention breaches from cybercriminals. Such tech giants may create a sense of trust in their name, but also make themselves a big target. Plenty of hackers aim to take down a big name like Google.
These cloud storage providers are not impenetrable. Data breaches happen all the time. Such concerns have driven users across the globe to consider other options. Enter decentralized networks.
While shopping around for a proper storage system, decentralized file storage came to the stage. Bringing along with it the technology of the crypto world. With decentralized storage already proven in the financial space, it seemed an applicable option for storage space.
As a plus for the cloud storage world, crypto and its adventures blazed a trail, testing the waters the hard way with ups and downs. Many people lost entire fortunes as the decentralized technology worked out its kinks.
Thankfully, decentralized storage networks and decentralized cloud storage were able to build from those lessons and create even more secure global network systems today. Decentralized storage systems are growing in popularity as they offer an even more secure cloud storage option, but also permit the values upon which the “power to the people” system aims to operate.
No longer would tech giants be the only option for decentralized storage systems. Now, an entire global network could opt to go the way of the peer-to-peer network, blockchain storage, and use that decentralized way to enhance privacy, a safe project, and keep everything from an entire file to an entire network safe through decentralized storage.
Decentralized Storage Network Options
Another unique aspect of decentralized storage is that each decentralized storage network can have unique features. Even those created by the same team of user operators can vary in their offerings.
From your own individual method to a major internal corporation, to (of course there are) professional decentralized cloud storage computer systems (aka they’ve made even this a business), you have plenty of choices.
Decentralized Cloud Storage
One of the most popular methods, thanks to its versatility, is the decentralized cloud storage method. With decentralized storage, data is encrypted and stored across multiple locations, or nodes, that are run by individuals or organizations that share their “extra disk space” for a fee. Only the data’s owner holds the private encryption key, and storage providers cannot access the data.
Unlike cloud storage providers like the aforementioned Google, who could on their own will access your private key, the decentralized peer-to-peer system provides a cloud storage platform without the oversight of a major corporation or authority.
Typically, a consensus mechanism is put into place, in which those users chosen to be on the safe network must agree to the terms. Fixed pricing is typically discussed, so that users offering up their disk space, not to mention those paying to store data, are all clear on the cost of doing business.
Storage networks are created via a decentralized web. Multiple computers connect and encrypt multiple copies of the data aiming to be stored. This storage network, linking peers to peers, will contain multiple copies of the data.
Users pay, most often, to participate in the network. As the cost of operations can be high, these prices vary depending on the terms of each particular storage system. Each individual storage node contains an updated copy of the encrypted data. Each portion of the network is able to store data as a complete copy of the full “ledger.” Much like a crypto blockchain keeps its ledger of transactions, the nodes connected among a decentralized cloud storage network contain a copy of the data.
These “copies” are stored via cloud storage on storage nodes. Connected via a decentralized cloud storage network, users keep the information safe, transparent, and encrypted. It must be continually updated and the cloud storage itself must have the capacity to do so at all times.
There are already many living examples of the decentralized data storage concept at work in today’s market. Some Proof-of-Work (meaning that miners must put in actual work to participate) examples include:
Other Proof-of-Stake (meaning miners or groups put up a “collateral” of funds to participate in the network) examples include:
- The Beacon Chain
Alternatively, there are programs such as the Interplanetary File System (IPFS), which is a decentralized storage and file referencing system used by Ethereum.
Some secure, private, and S3-Compatible decentralized cloud storage options for developers include:
- Storj network
Each unique product has its own pros and cons, depending on the features involved. It is important to research not just the types of networks, but the way in which they operate, to decide which works best for your needs.
Pros of Storing Data with Decentralization
Every system, of course, has its pros and cons. The decentralized cloud storage world is still growing and building its features, but there are certainly several pros already to the concept. Cloud storage has a long way to go and many options for a bright future, but where it is headed is anyone’s guess.
Let’s understand, as it exists, how decentralized cloud storage brings many positives to the data storage solutions world.
Decentralized cloud storage’s number one feature is to be secure. Any data storage system must offer this as a top concern. What good are data and informational storage if it is not able to be kept safe?
In terms of decentralized cloud storage, security is rather baked into the technology. As we’ve explained, the blockchain itself distributes your data across the network. By using encryption, private keys, and the distributed locations data is inherently safer. While a centralized authority may be able to take great steps in securing data, it only takes one hacker to be successful to get into one system.
Decentralized cloud storage means data is being kept on many devices at the same time. If we go back to our “pie” analogy, hacking one piece of the decentralized network means that only one piece of your virtual pie would be at risk. That hacker, assuming they were able to take down one aspect of your decentralized cloud storage network, would only have a slice of the pie, and not your whole pie.
And, without your private keys for decoding that slice, even that slice is likely fairly safe. Having your “pieces” stored in different locations gives that added layer to the security puzzle.
When working in a peer-to-peer space, many worry this is a step back from safety. After all, are you trusting others to keep your data safe, right?
Thankfully, the system itself again works much of that safety into the way in which it operates. While you are working with others in a network, there is a checks and balances concept with the transparency of a blockchain. Since the system is distributed, and all transactions are secured and locked into place, there is not much even another network user could do to disrupt that synchronicity.
In addition to the transparent nature of a distributed ledger, another pro in the blockchain’s technology column is its immutable abilities. To keep a decentralized cloud storage system safe, knowing that data blocks cannot be changed by any party is a major positive.
Even if a member of the network were to be hacked or even be malicious on their own, the fact that data blocks cannot be altered provides another layer of security.
The encryption of data in a blockchain requires a lot of complex computations. Private and group keys are required in order for it to function. But, once a block is created in the series, it is there for good.
The steps to get there may be cumbersome, but that block is, once in the chain, immutable.
Because they operate largely on automated smart contracts, blockchains also help to lower errors. For a block to be approved and created in the chain, it must meet the requirements of the contract.
Smart contracts operate on “if/then” concepts. If X occurs, then Y can happen. The “X” must be precisely entered as required. It does not rely on a human checkpoint, but instead, is digitally reviewed.
Not only does this automation mean fewer errors, but it also gives users the pro of fast and reliable transfers of information. Smart contracts mean as soon as X is met, Y happens. There is no delay. There is no approval of that central authority or middle man. It happens.
A major positive of the digital world as a whole is this automated and rapid pace. Decentralized cloud storage of data is no different. It too is a space that values and benefits from such advancements.
Finally, a major pro of the decentralized cloud storage concept is the lower fees involved. Typically, the inclusion of a central authority or power means also the cost of operating that power. You are “paying for” that service one way or another.
Much like crypto benefits from the lowering of fees like banking fees or transaction costs, so too does the data storage industry. By relying on peers, the cost of doing business is often spread across the network. Each user on the network is contributing their free data space, and each is footing the bill for that power.
By sharing the duties, so too are network users sharing the costs in a distributed network, increasing storage capacity, and sharing responsibilities in doing so.
Cons of Storing Data with Decentralization
Nothing in this world is perfect, right. So there of course has to be a downside to this world of decentralized data storage. Yes, data breaches happen, even in the best of systems. But, well beyond that, ironically, some of the features many consider a positive, can also flip to be seen as a negative by others.
No Central Authority
While this meets those values of giving the “power to the people,” and moving away from the tech giants, there is a reason those giants exist. While some appreciate the freedoms that come with this move away from the central power, others worry that these companies have the staffing, tech, and know-how to keep your data safe.
There is a reason some names have become trusted allies in keeping data safe, and they have years of building such a “resume” to prove it. While many appreciate being in control of their own data, some would rather leave those concerns on someone else’s shoulders.
Another pro above can also have a flip side as a con. Being immutable does prevent errors and creates a sense of permanency. These blocks cannot be changed. However, there are some issues with that same feature.
Should you find yourself in a successful blockchain of data security, you will likely soon discover you can’t repeat that same magic again. A major drawback of the immutable blockchain is that it cannot be copied or repeated.
While this is less of an impact on data storage, it is certainly difficult if your prerogative is to develop applications or programs to assist in the business. Without the possibility of scaling, some developers are wary of bringing their work to such a network.
Errors or Bugs
Another big problem when it comes to immutable blocks is that they cannot be changed. Funny, right, since we just said that was a huge positive in data storage and security. But, think of a bug. Once an error is found and a bug in the system, guess what? That same inability to change a block becomes a nightmare.
If you find a bug, there is no power that can go back and “fix” that bug in one block. It can ruin an entire network if someone weaves its way in. Without that central power or override, there can be no fix.
The Future of Decentralized Storage
As we like to remind everyone, no one knows for sure what the future holds. Instead, we are in the business of analyzing data, watching trends, and trying to predict which way the wind will blow. When it comes to decentralization and its many features, we are still in a very early infancy stage of tech.
These features are ever-changing and will likely continue to improve. When many tech experts focus on a concept, you can often expect a winning outcome. Many industries, from healthcare to finance, are curious about the options that decentralization can bring to the table. And, with nearly any industry having some interest in data and how it is stored, it is no wonder why there are so many “chefs in the kitchen,” so to speak.
The best way to understand these new technologies and where they are headed is to stay informed. Change is inevitable, and often the only factor of the technology world you can trust to remain true. There will always be change.
Staying on top of those updates is crucial to understanding the newest tech out there. Find yourself trusted resources in order to keep yourself informed.
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