Cloud computing and its close cousin cloud storage represented the next big computing revolution. Now, it appears that blockchain technology has introduced a further wrinkle to the cloud computing paradigm.
Traditional computing relies on processing power and storage being hosted locally. Storage, in particular, had always been a limiting factor due to the expense of maintaining large volumes of storage within relatively a relatively small home or work environment.
Cloud storage offered a solution. Large storage providers with the specialized resources to host racks and racks of storage space made their service available via the internet, or the “cloud,” as it came to be known. Instead of managing reams of data locally, a home or business computer user could ship their data off to one of these specialized providers and access it at will.
The Cloud Storage Advantage
Traditional, centralized cloud storage providers gave users a host of different advantages. Beyond the obvious cost and space savings, centralized cloud storage providers offered a ready-made backup for locally hosted data. Data uploaded to one of these services via the cloud could be accessed from any computer with an internet connection, shielding it from local natural disasters or security breaches. Moreover, traditional cloud storage introduced an economy of scale to data storage. By hosting a variety of data from a variety of users on large-scale machines, the cloud storage providers could minimize wasted space and keep the cost – both monetary and environmental – to a minimum.
Centralization Strikes Again
This centralized model, however, came with quite a few notable drawbacks. While data was definitely safer in a dedicated cloud storage facility as opposed to a home or business server, it was still collected in one physical location. Even if that location were hardened against environmental hazards or hacking, there was still a single point of failure that could potentially be encountered.
Cloud Storage Providers, Image from CNET
Moreover, wasted space could still be an issue. Cloud storage providers had to tread a delicate capital expenditure line. Too little storage space, and they couldn’t possibly handle the volume of uploaded data. Too much, and they were wasting electricity – and time – maintaining unused servers.
Decentralization has emerged as a way to potentially knock out both problems at once. We’re going to briefly survey the advantages of decentralized cloud storage and some of the major players in the space.
Decentralized storage using blockchain technology carries some immediate benefits over the traditional model. Ironically, these benefits are achieved by moving full circle back to storage at individual homes and businesses. The blockchain makes all the difference. By parceling out data over a number of different volunteer computers, data can be stored more efficiently and retrieved more quickly than data hosted on a central server – prone to maintenance upgrades, breakdowns, and the so-called “hug of death” due to bandwidth restrictions.
A periodically updated copy of the blockchain embedded on those individual nodes, however, prevents the loss of any one node from losing the data it contains. The data is stored in discrete bits over the network that can be pieced back together in the event of a small-scale loss. Moreover, security is guaranteed by these backups. Individual storage providers can’t tamper with the data, lest the blockchain reject their altered copy of the data, and it is largely immune to hackers or data thieves due to the way it’s distributed and continually verified.
All that, and the cost savings can be significant. Data storage providers receive an economic incentive in the form of file storage tokens for hosting data, and they shoulder electrical and equipment upgrade costs independently. This has the effect of breaking up the cloud storage model into a multitude of independent contracts, all competing to provide the best, fastest, and safest storage for a larger share of tokens.
The Major Players
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They all rely on the same basic principle. Unused hard drive space on the network is rented to users, and the providers of the unused hard drive space are rewarded with tokens.
The main differences between the coins, at the moment, is market share. This is important, as decentralized cloud storage providers necessarily need to be big to be worthwhile. In other words, the larger the community, the more storage space is available and the more economic that storage space is.
In order of market capitalization, a rough measure of market share, the players are ranked Sia, Storj, and Maidsafe. Filecoin does not currently have an estimated market cap on major analysis sites, due to the project being in a preliminary stage. At the moment, only Filecoin futures are available.
Just like centralized cloud storage providers, there is likely room for more than one distinct blockchain cloud storage provider in the space. There are several components to storage, including price, space available, and speed. There will likely be plenty of opportunities in the future for coins to carve out a distinct niche in the space, differentiating themselves from their competitors.
The Ongoing Blockchain Revolution
The blockchain has already changed the way we work, spend, and play. Now, it seems likely that decentralized storage will change the way we handle and manipulate data, as well. Decentralized cloud storage offers reams of relatively cheap, fast storage with a redundant safety factor provided by the blockchain’s ability to distribute files across multiple nodes. It’s difficult to pick which, if any, of the current decentralized cloud storage providers will ultimately be the frontrunner. Early adoption will be key, due to the “bigger is better” nature of cloud storage. It’s almost guaranteed, however, that some manner of specialization will ultimately develop. Some networks are just plain better at handling certain kinds of data requests than others. A streaming video storage service, for instance, may prioritize speed over cost or sheer space. A digital equivalent to a large-scale, long-term data warehouse like Iron Mountain, however, might be able to make due with slower speeds for economical bulk storage rates.
The blockchain sphere continues to grow and evolve, and it’s certain that blockchain storage will grow and evolve along with it.