Many potential use cases for decentralized storage exist. Others have yet to be discovered. The advantages of this approach should not be underestimated. Let’s analyze what blockchain technology can bring to the table when it comes to decentralized data & storage solutions.
A Logical Hardware Evolution
Technology allows for different eras of evolution and improvement. This is particularly apparent where storage and computers are concerned. In the past two decades, numerous ways of storing data have emerged. Some of these have become completely obsolete ever since.
Hardware-wise, a lot has changed. Gone are the days of using floppy disks, CD-ROMs, and for most people, DVDs containing data other than video content. Despite the introduction of Blu-Rays, they have never been considered to be a data storage solution outside of the entertainment industry.
One particular trend in recent years is the focus on online data storage. Some people may fondly remember the era of Yahoo Briefcase and FTPs to share data, particularly if a bigger file size is involved. Other forms of data storage have emerged since then. The rise of databases, newsgroups, and even IRC bots has been well-documented.
Unfortunately, all of these centralized solutions share the same flaws. Users are completely reliant on third parties to store and maintain sensitive information. If the host goes down for whatever reason, the end user can access or share his own data. In this modern day and age, such a development would be deemed completely unacceptable.
Time to Evolve the Mindset
New technologies have been introduced to counter this problem. The use of content delivery networks and distributed file storage are two current examples. They can both serve a purpose, albeit for completely different use cases. No solution is perfect for solving all problems.
One major challenge to overcome is getting consumers and corporations excited about these new solutions. A lot of people still tend to rely on centralized storage options. This is primarily due to convenience and being unaware of the alternatives. Additionally, there is some degree of misunderstanding that needs to be addressed.
The Cloud Isn’t Really a Cloud
For corporations, storing data “in the cloud” has become a common approach. Even consumers seem to like this concept. Most of them think that this is a distributed solution, while in reality, it is not. The cloud is not necessarily a distributed cluster of computers around the world.
Instead, the cloud can be translated into “someone else’s server:. As such, if that particular server were to become inaccessible, the data on it is off-limits as well. While cloud providers guarantee high uptimes, there is always a central point of failure.
Secondly, the user is not in full control of their data. It belongs to “the cloud” for as long as it remains stored there. This may not seem like a big issue, on paper. However, it creates a very uneasy situation for all parties involved.
Last but not least, centralized storage providers have a bad reputation. Numerous companies have confirmed they share data with others without asking for user consent. Combined with the risk of being hacked and data being leaked, this is far from an ideal situation for the end user. Anyone taking data storage and accessibility seriously is better off looking for other options.
Finding a Decentralized Solution
One way of addressing any and all concerns is by using decentralized and distributed storage. This can be achieved in many ways, and offers major advantages.
Immutability of data and having both transparency and privacy at the same time are just some of the potential benefits. The biggest advantage is how no central party controls the data or its storage. Instead, it is shared by network participants around the world.
Security is another priority when exploring decentralized storage solutions. A decentralized network will often ensure all data is encrypted. It requires a special “key” to access the data, protecting it from prying eyes. Since no “one node’ will store all of the data, there is no central point of failure.
One has to acknowledge decentralized storage solutions are in their infancy. More research and development is needed to unlock the full potential. In their current form, these solutions are relatively slow and cumbersome to use. There is no confirmation a decentralized storage protocol will ever be more efficient to use.
Costs-wise, it remains to be seen if this approach is cheaper. In theory, it very well could be. The reality often looks different, however. Network nodes for the decentralized storage networks need to be of the highest quality. Achieving that goal comes at a cost, which is often passed down to the consumer.
Can Blockchain Technology Help?
In theory, decentralized storage solutions and blockchain technology share many of the same traits. They both prioritize transparency, immutability, and efficiency by removing central points of failure. That doesn’t necessarily make blockchain “perfect” for decentralized storage by default.
While it is possible to store data on a blockchain, it too coses at a financial cost. Several projects currently explore the use of blockchain technology as a data storage solution or “addition”. Such projects are in the early stages of development, and will undergo improvements in the years to come.
A Working Example: RIF Storage
Finding working examples of blockchain technology and decentralized storage is not difficult. RIFOS, developed by Rootstock (a sidechain on top of Bitcoin that enables developers to create, import and deploy smart contracts), acts as a third layer on top of Bitcoin’s network . One of the solutions this technology provides is RIF Storage, or decentralized storage over the blockchain.
More specifically, RIF Storage provides encrypted storage and streaming of information. It also provides exposure to a library of different storage systems making use of blockchain technology. It is a “gateway” to unlocking the full potential of this concept.
Among the libraries one can access through RIF Storage are Swarm and IPFS, or the InterPlanetary File System. This latter solution acts as a protocol and P2P network for storing and sharing data. Files are given a unique identifier through its content-addressing solution.
There are some similarities between IPFS and BitTorrent. Both options allow for receiving and hosting content. However, with IPFS, network users all hold a piece of the total data, negating the central point of failure problem. IPFS has been used by the Catalan Pirate Party and Filecoin in an official capacity.
The Swarm Partnership
The partnership between RIFOS and Swarm tackles a different approach. Several milestones need to be achieved in the process. To do so, both teams have agreed to complete this rollout throughout multiple phases.
Building a multi-chain decentralized storage solution will not come easy. Even when it exists, it is crucial to get people excited about such a venture. During the first stage of development, there will be an incentive for users downloading content from the network.
For those looking to upload content, they will have to wait until phase 2. In this iteration, there will be the addition of spam protection. It is not intended to have everyone upload literally everything to the network. Instead, the developers intent to make the uploading of files subject to optional payments.
In the final phase, the network will introduce market-driven prices for accessing and distributing content over the network.
Summarizing, RIF’s partnersip with Swarm will include the following phases:
Phase 1: This phase is launching soon on testnet and incentivizes fair use of the network between the peers by paying them for downloading content. The payment will be done off-chain.
Phase 2: This phase will add spam protection by making uploading content optionally paid similar to how you can choose to pay transaction fees in the Bitcoin network.
Phase 3: The final phase will provide decentralized persistence and market-driven prices.
How Will it Work?
Uploading content to the network will be done through Swarm nodes and the RIF Storage user interface. Every file uploaded to the network is automatically split into smaller pieces. Those pieces will be distributed to the network after being encrypted and mapped as a Merkle Tree.
For downloading content, the same process applies, but in reverse. Different pieces of a file are located through the Merkle Tree, decrypted, and put together again to form the complete file.
Users taking care of storing the pieces of a file will need to be incentivized. This will occur through the Swarm Account Protocol, under which nodes serve equal amounts of download and upload volume. As certain thresholds are met, payment requests are sent out by the node. Any node not meeting the standards of settling debt on time will risk disconnection from the network as a whole.