Unlike traditional centralized storage servers operated by a single entity or organization, decentralized storage systems keep data files across geographically distributed nodes connected via peer-to-peer (P2P) networking.
Using blockchain to maintain decentralized storage networks can help increase security by ensuring data files are safeguarded against errors, counterparty risks, and single-point failures.
In 2006, British mathematician Clive Humby coined the phrase "data is the new oil." This statement is more relevant than ever in an age where our personal data is deeply intertwined with our online experience.
Today, the personal data that makes up our digital identity is typically stored in a centralized way. While centralized storage solutions are more accessible, users don't have full control over what data they want to share and how they want to share it, making it potentially more vulnerable to data loss, privacy breaches, and cyberattacks.
However, the advent of Web3 has changed the way we interact with one another online, with blockchain technology playing a considerable role in this shift.
Blockchain-powered applications run independently without needing trusted third parties, creating a decentralized Internet where users can control more of their data and online experiences. Moreover, with the emergence of decentralized storage, users can access and store their data in a distributed way rather than on a single centralized server.
Centralized Versus Decentralized Storage
Centralized data storage has been the default for many years. This storage method involves a provider managing and keeping data on a single server or group of servers, usually in the same place.
This method makes data easy to access and manage. For example, cloud storage is typically a centralized solution where data is kept on servers maintained by a single organization, such as Amazon, Google, or Dropbox.
When it comes to security in centralized data storage, data is usually encrypted with 128-bit SSL technology when in transit from your computer to a centralized storage server. It can also be encrypted with 256-bit encryption once on the centralized storage server.
However, centralized data storage has its limitations. No matter how stringent the security measures are, the storage platform holds the encryption keys. This raises potential concerns for accessibility, transparency, and control. Additionally, hackers can more easily target a single point of failure to try and access a large amount of data because everything is kept in one place.
On the other hand, decentralized systems store data across a geographically dispersed network of computers rather than in a single location. This makes storing large amounts of data possible without relying on a central server or provider, helping to eliminate potential censorship and privacy intrusion issues.
How Does Decentralized Storage Work?
Decentralized storage involves storing data across multiple computers or nodes connected to a P2P network like BitTorrent or an InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) protocol.
Data uploaded onto a decentralized storage system is split into small pieces and sent to multiple nodes across the network for storage. If you need to retrieve your data file, the network will piece together the sharded components from the individual nodes storing it and reassemble them for you to download.
Additionally, nodes in a decentralized storage system can't view or alter files because a cryptographic hash mechanism automatically encrypts all the data stored on a network. Users must use their private keys to access their data and prevent unauthorized entities from retrieving the information.
The Advantages of Decentralized Storage Over Centralized Storage
Decentralized data storage can alleviate some of the issues faced by traditional centralized storage servers. Here are a few of the benefits decentralized storage networks have over their centralized counterparts.
Improved security and privacy
Traditional centralized storage networks are more vulnerable to cyberattacks because all their data is kept in a single location. On the contrary, decentralized storage systems offer more robust security because their data is spread across multiple nodes rather than residing on a single server.
This makes it harder for hackers to break into decentralized storage networks and extract information. Moreover, users don't have to submit personal information to store data in a decentralized system, so there is an added layer of anonymity.
No single point of failure
While centralized data storage networks are easier to access and manage, they are also more prone to transmission errors that can potentially lead to data loss. A decentralized storage network consists of multiple connected nodes, providing greater redundancy and fault tolerance so users can still access data from other nodes on the network even if one node goes down.
Faster download speeds
Centralized storage can run into bottlenecks if the traffic is heavier than what the network can handle. Thanks to blockchain technology, decentralized storage can potentially reduce bandwidth usage because the nodes storing the data files are spread out globally.
With many nodes hosting data, more storage is available on a decentralized system than on a centralized one. This usually results in lower costs compared to existing centralized storage platforms, especially for smaller users who can’t benefit from economies of scale.
Enhanced data integrity
Data integrity refers to the ability of data to maintain the same qualities throughout its entire lifetime. Retaining data integrity is challenging with centralized storage systems because data becomes unavailable if something happens to a server or the webpage is moved to another location. With decentralized storage, data can remain accessible indefinitely and, through hashing, remain intact.
What Are the Limitations of Decentralized Storage?
Although decentralized data storage can have benefits over centralized systems, there are also some limitations that may contradict the advantages listed above. For example, since decentralized storage systems rely on a network of nodes to store and retrieve data, the access times can be slower than centralized storage systems.
Similarly, decentralized storage may be more secure than centralized systems from the data ownership standpoint, but it’s not immune to security and other risks. Malicious nodes could compromise the security of data stored on the network. In addition, decentralized storage systems depend on the network infrastructure to function correctly. Therefore, the availability of the data stored on the network can suffer in the case of network outages.
There is also a lack of standardization in decentralized storage. Different protocols may use different encryption methods and authentication mechanisms, making it difficult to ensure interoperability. Additionally, the risks associated with encryption and key management in decentralized storage systems are still unresolved.
While decentralized storage is still an emerging technology that has yet to gain mass adoption, it could help push the Web3 revolution forward. As users seek a more affordable, efficient, and secure data storage mechanism, decentralized platforms like BitTorrent might be popularized sooner than expected.
Furthermore, the pervasiveness of data breaches, rising storage costs, and censorship in the traditional data storage space may see more people turn to decentralized products. Nevertheless, while decentralized storage may help resolve some of the issues of its centralized counterpart, it still comes with its own limitations. For now, centralized storage remains an attractive solution for many people, and it will retain significant market share even as decentralized storage becomes more popular.