Decentralizing Storage - One Server At A Time
Storage is defined as the retention of retrievable data on a computer or other electronic system. We use storage daily from the mobile phone and computers we use, and it is easily understood from the files we put onto a USB stick. From the days of having to put files on a floppy disk to be able to place files in the ‘cloud’, storage has come a long way.
So why Decentralized Storage?
The current solutions of Google Drive and Dropbox still work great. There is no reason to change something if it works just fine. However, there have been growing concerns as to why users want to switch from these systems due to the restrictive nature of some services and the more commonly understood reports of recent company data leaks.
There were, of course, several factors that contributed to the data breaches, with the likes of Cambridge Analytica and Equifax. However, one major factor revolves around the central server storage of such information. Since the Internet started, data breaches have been happening, and companies have learned to deal with them. Still, it also comes to attention that new infrastructures might help fix parts of the solution (i.e. decentralized storage).
Decentralized storage is a potential solution that Blockchain companies are researching and implementing. It is a system of being able to store your files without having to rely on large, centralized silos of data that don’t undermine essential values such as privacy and freedom of your information.
Back in the day of P2P file sharing, torrenting and services such as Limewire were popular in downloading music and video files. It worked as a system where many users maintain copies of the file and seed (send fragments of the file) to participants on the network. However, there were no mass-scale consumer incentive mechanisms for the network participants to stay online. Decentralized storage networks operate similarly to other advanced cryptography and encryption and the added incentive mechanism.
Understanding the need for decentralized storage.
When the Internet framework was being thought, it was thought people would run their own servers. This means they will be a publisher and consumer of content, code, and infrastructure. But over time, we realized that it’s not what people want to do. While they want to consume, they don’t want to run their own servers.
Thus, the companies that took the mantle of giving’ storage as a service’ became widely crucial and popular for holding all the data. They did this not only for individuals but corporations and even governments.
What this led to was a single point of vulnerability. An exploit or slowdown on one end can halt the whole system. And this is not just for cloud storage companies but for relatively centralized organizations like Google and Meta(previously Facebook). We’ve often come across slumps and paid our pilgrimage to Twitter and websites like https://www.isitdownrightnow.com/ to check if it’s our patch internet connection or a real issue. This is also because they have this vast centralized server that stores all the data that their platform generates.
At its core, Arweave is a Decentralized Storage Network (DSN) that connects people who have extra available computer disk space with those who need more computer storage. Designed to provide scalable, cost-effective, and permanent data storage, Arweave is built on a blockchain-like data structure called the blockweave.
To understand how the permanence of data works, blockweave is maintained by miners who provide disk space and replicate the data stored in the network to gain AR tokens(Arweave’s Native Token). To mine or verify a new block, miners must provide cryptographic proof that they can access the blockweave’s recall block — this is what they termed as ‘Proof of Access’.
Permaweb: Developed by Arweave, Permaweb looks like the traditional web, except everything published on the permaweb, is available forever. Think of it as a collection of data, websites, and decentralized applications (dApps) that form a permanent, decentralized information network that’s accessible through regular internet browsers and which motivates users to participate. The permaweb is a layer built on Arweave’s global permanent hard drive. For content creators, the permaweb offers low-cost, zero maintenance, and permanent hosting of their web apps and web pages. Arweave’s permaweb enables information storage and websites that live forever on a smart blockchain while keeping costs low and speeds high.
Interestingly, Arweave lets miners choose which blocks and transactions to store. Each miner can establish a “content policy” that prohibits specific data from being stored by the miner. When data is distributed to the network, it is scanned against the content policies of each miner. It will not be accepted into a miner’s transaction pool if it contains prohibited content.
IPFS & Filecoin
IPFS, an abbreviation for InterPlanetary File System, attempts to address the deficiencies of the client-server model and HTTP web through a novel p2p file-sharing system. This system is a synthesis of several new and existing innovations. IPFS is an open-source project created by Protocol Labs, an R&D lab for network protocols and a former Y Combinator startup.
Filecoin: Filecoin is a separate protocol designed to add economic incentives to file storage on IPFS and foster a distributed storage market that rivals enterprise cloud storage (like Amazon S3, etc.). Filecoin is an open-source, cloud-based decentralized storage network (DSN) built to maximize data storage and retrieval. The Filecoin network leverages mining, storage, and retrieval mechanism that connects storage miners (providers) and retrieval miners (servers) with clients who pay to store and retrieve data. Network participants receive and send tokenized rewards in Filecoin tokens (FIL) for providing services on the network.
To accomplish this exchange of data and make the network transparent and equitable for all users, Filecoin’s system employs specialized cryptographic proofs to verify the quantities and types of files on the network. This is designed to help safeguard against accidental alteration of the files. Instead of a centralized infrastructure with fixed pricing, IPFS + FileCoin offers storage on a global network of local providers who have the freedom to set prices based on supply and demand. Instead of a Proof-of-Work consensus algorithm like Bitcoin, Filecoin uses Proof-of-Storage to ensure security and reliability.
If you think of it, Decentralized Storage might look fascinating as it solves several problems, including the cost of managing big data servers, significantly diluting the risk of having a single point of the breach and utilizing the extra storage with people that is unused at the moment.
But there are a few things to look at, and the biggest of them is incentivization. It’s essential to understand incentives to keep the system alive and the stakeholders aligned.
Also, a second-order effect that now is being noticed by newer protocols is that while decentralized is non-negotiable, it’s also reasonably inaccessible with the current systems in place. They’re, as of now, not meant to run in a mobile-first world. These protocols entirely exist on full-fledged desktops and servers.
In the words of Moxie, co-founder of Signal, ‘A crypto wallet like MetaMask, Rainbow, etc. is “non-custodial” (the keys are kept client-side), but it has the same problem as my dApps above: a wallet has to run on a mobile device or in your browser. Meanwhile, Ethereum and other blockchains have been designed with the idea that it’s a network of peers, but not designed such that your mobile device or your browser can be one of those peers.’
While some progress has been made with newer protocols like Mina Protocol, they are trying to leverage mobile devices by making the overall protocol storage size extremely accommodating. But, only time will tell if they see mainstream success and not just the scalability trilemma.