There used to be a time when all information was stored in hard copy folders on cobwebbed shelves, tucked away in ancient dusty warehouses and libraries. However, words like ‘folder’ and ‘library’ have evolved to have entirely different connotations over the past few decades.

The 1920s saw the Magnetic Tape by Fritz Pfleumer. In 1946, the Williams Tube was invented: the first random access computer memory. ’56 saw the birth of the Hard Disk, which could store and retrieve bits of digital information. The music tape — a personal favourite of mine was introduced in 1963 by Philips. Then, as expected in the world of technology, like an accelerating domino effect, a series of inventions fell through at an alarming pace. DRAM, Twister Memory, Bubble Memory, Floppy, CD, CD-ROM, DAT, DDS, MOD(PDF), MiniDisc, Zip, DVD, Phase Writer Dual, Microdrive, SD Card, Blu-Ray, Holographic PDF…

Where will it end?

Human beings go on to behold “the cloud”

Internet service providers built something called a cloud which could be used to lend out storage space to its users. Storing data on their own servers was expensive and often, there would be a lot of unutilized storage space that would get wasted.

Instead of hosting their own servers, users could now move to the cloud to store their data. This saves a lot of money for users, removing the need for constant maintenance of storage space and minimizing wastage.

Turbulence in the cloud

The issue with using a centralized cloud for storage is that users have to trust the provider not to tamper with their information or violate their privacy. Of course, a degree of trust is required in every system, but, as ironic as it may sound, the aim should be to reduce the requirement for it. There are two entities that users export their trust to when using the cloud: the technology and operator/provider.

It is important to be able to trust the technology.

It would be ideal to have a good fail-safe system in case the technology somehow crashes; however there should be no dependency on the operator. An ideal technological system would reduce the need to rely on human interference. Facebook has access to the private data of all of its users, which number in the billions, as does Google. All users are catered to by a host of a centralised cloud storage systems and have to trust the host with their privacy. Yet there have been several instances when these centralized providers have either sold or given away private data about users to other actors, such as to state apparatus or marketing firms.

After data leaks involving Deep Root Analytics and the Verizon-Nice Systems, the ‘cloud computing revolution’ faced a momentary whiplash. The leaks involved huge security breaches where the privacy of millions of users was compromised.

Now the technological universe saw itself reverting back to a form of client-server computing, but this time with a new and improved approach via the implementation of blockchain.

Decentralised Cloud System Based on Blockchain

Developers of the decentralised cloud storage systems wanted to build an alternative to cloud storage system without all of its shortcomings.

It was decided that five main features needed to be included as part of the main design:

  • Each user of this new cloud would be the sole owner of their data and also be the only ones with the ability to access it.
  • There should never be a dearth of hosts willing to rent storage space.
  • Users should not have to be subject to the technical failures of a central system.
  • There should be no zero-day vulnerabilities in the data storage design.
  • All participating hosts should be offered the incentive not just to participate and contribute, but also to handle the data of their peers. The system should evoke this incentive not by appealing to user/provider ethics, but by appealing to either their common sense or self-interest.

The blockchain is a peer-to-peer network that is not owned or controlled by a single central authority. Multiple nodes are located across the globe in the form of independent servers on every continent but Antartica, connecting and participating together to form a distributed, shared and decentralised database.

A centralised cloud storage system uses servers with huge databases. These require technology that can provide heavy maintenance and constant updates. The technology required is rather expensive and so storing data on a centralised cloud is costly.

Token-based system
With a decentralised system, providers can rent out unutilised storage space in exchange for tokens. Tokens can be used in further transactions. This is a much cheaper method compared to using a centralised cloud, but the costs of storing data are subject to variation as they are determined by supply and demand. Users could potentially access their data much faster and storage space wastage is minimized further still.

Increased privacy
Users send out their data products in fragments to several separate nodes, and only they have access to the encryption key for their respective data products: there is a greater assurance of privacy in this system as opposed to conventional cloud storage mechanisms in which a single third party controls data traffic.

Blockchain-based provenance infrastructure
Provenance is an attribute that encompasses the ability to determine the history of a data product from its origin. Knowing the complete history of a data product deters access violations to it, as this can be easily detected due to data storage immutability.

Redundancy: a good thing
There are two main structures that blockchain based cloud storage systems could use: peer-to-peer or multi peer.

In a peer-to-peer system, when a user uploads their data, a copy of the data migrates to a peer. However there is no assurance that this peer will not disappear. Cloud storage systems are heavily populated and users often opt in and out frequently. Thus, deleting the data once a copy of it has been sent to a peer is not an option. In a multi peer system, multiple copies of this data are made (redundant data). This allows the owner of the data to delete it from their local drive and create space, because there is a higher assurance of there being multiple backups available.

Most blockchain-based cloud storage technologies are actually not just peer-to-peer but multi-peer technologies.

Also, working with a decentralised system of storage minimises the potential of errors in storage and transmission of data.

Finally, decentralisation means a shift to lower costs, since:

  • The price of such storage platforms is determined by supply and demand.
  • Any network user can rent out their local, unutilised storage space.
  • Blockchain uses pre-existing servers, so the infrastructure is already in place. As such, providers of decentralised space have lower costs, allowing them to charge consumers less.

Data will at some point be dealt with in petabytes and zettabytes at B2B level. It is a commonly accepted myth that big business with a pivotal central location and big servers are the only agents capable of handling data on such a scale. However it is important to ask the question: how much leverage and power are individuals handing over when they migrate to a centralised cloud? How vulnerable do they become when their data is shipped off to a monopoly?

B2B, B2C and C2C transactions have to be efficient. Yet this efficiency cannot derive from a centralised entity as this requires a trust based system. Users have to trust that the biggest server is also the most benevolent one. However, this is essentially the same thing as being at the mercy of chance. If the centralised cloud storage provider is not as benevolent, trustworthy or efficient as required, huge amounts of data could be lost.

The worst case scenario is when a certain cloud storage provider begins to monopolise the cloud storage market. The conductor in the orchestra of information is ultimately, the most influential data holder in the market. If the conductor is malicious or inept, every user, big and small, loses their data, and thus, functioning power.

If markets and private transactions are to keep running smoothly, it is important to avoid a big-business invasion or a monopoly-based armageddon, which centralise the network under their control. The simple way to counter this dramatic problem is to switch to decentralised cloud-based services and ditch the middleman.