James Moulding on the need to look beyond the corporate cloud to radically decentralised, secure and sustainable storage solutions.
“It is time for the cloud to truly become a cloud, made up of a vast multitude of resource droplets that are added and subtracted as the cloud forms, moves and changes shape.”
– Storj Metadisk Whitepaper (2014).
With billions of us logging on everyday, the security of our online assets has become an ever-present concern. Increasingly, web users and businesses are storing their data through cloud storage solutions as opposed to traditional “on-premise” space. However, as the recent iCloud hack has shown, despite the huge growth of cloud storage, there are serious questions to be levelled at current corporate storage models.
The current corporate structure of the internet belies, as Maciej Ceglowski writes, the failure of decades of technologists to make the Internet resilient to political, not just, technical failure. The Internet has then largely become a landscape dominated by centralised systems, reflecting the bureacratic and oligarchal systems of its parent society. The digital environment is wholly centred around the Big Five, the Stacks, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft.
They don’t want much, those Stacks. Just your identity, your allegiance, and all of your data. Just to be your sole provider of messaging, media, merchandise, and metadata.
In order to make use of their services we passively allow them every freedom to use, abuse, copy and harvest our data in any way they see fit. Through agreement to various Terms of Service we sell them our data in return for a service. A centralised system that is by it’s very nature insecure and open to political and legal attack. With a user’s data held centrally there is a central point of failure, a server susceptible to government shutdown (such as Megaupload). The current expansion of cloud computing, involving increasing transfers of data to be held and processesed in centralised datacentres, is another potential political failure waiting to happen.
A majority of SMBs transfer sensitive or confidential data to the corporate cloud and 60% of those organisations believe primary responsibility for the security of their online assets wrests with the cloud provider. With 44% annual growth in public cloud workloads, a recent study claims increasing cloud use could be creating a costly security breach multiplier effect unless cloud service providers radically strengthen security and visibility of end user practices. According to the report, 51% of blue chip IT professionals say the likelihood of a major data breach increases due to the cloud. However, the use of businesses utilising client-side encryption before it goes to the cloud is 33% higher than the use of encryption within the cloud itself. Business is not oblivious to the many security concerns of corporate cloud storage. The recent iCloud hack has brought these security issues to the forefront of public attention like never before.
In response to the potential market for more secure cloud technologies, alternative storage models have begun to tackle the various concerns inherent to corporate centralised cloud storage. Swedish-based Hydro66 are concerned with building a new generation of sustainable datacentres based on renewable energy, revolutionising the current dependency on environmentally damaging storage solutions. Bitcasa, for example integrates client-side encryption into the cloud service itself. Syndicate utilises existing corporate storage to create a decentralised ‘virtual’ cloud – decentralised in the sense that the cloud is not centred on any one centralised cloud. A key player on the alt-cloud scene, Symform, combines client-side encryption and true peer-to-peer geo-distributed decentralisation, in which users provide hard drive space to the network in exchange for free or flat-fee storage. Storj is arguably the most sophisticated, technologically advanced and secure decentralised cloud storage network, combining peer-to-peer protocols, blockchain technology and Bitcoinesque incentivisation..
The technologies employed within the Storj network eliminate the risks, insecurities and problems associated with conventional centralised corporate cloud storage services such as Dropbox and Google Drive. Storj does not run from a centralised location but permeates the net through a network of users who, like Symform, provide part of their hard disk space to the cloud for use by the net. Data held on these decentralised systems is shredded into dozens of fragments and redundancies which is then distributed across the network to dozens, if not hundreds of locations. There is no central point of failure on the network, just as the Internet itself was initially envisioned to resist direct attack.
With no central datacentres to support, but a global network of users harddrives, decentralisation also radically reduces costs. According to Storj, Dropbox costs $99 per 100 GB of storage, whereas Storj’s estimated costing for 100 GB of storage is just $1.96, reducing to $0.74 in their first year after launch and negligible amounts later on. Cost reduction through decentralisation threatens to revolutionise the nascent corporate cloud industry.
Utilisation of blockchain distributed consensus technology sets Storj apart from similar cloud solutions. The Storj network uses the blockchain as a data store; when a user uploads a file, the file is encrypted and sent to three or more locations. A record of the upload, its locations and the hash (which serves as both unique identifier and a way to detect file tampering), file metadata, is made in the blockchain through Datacoin. If the files are modified or accessed the hash will be different, meaning the Storj network has the capability to spot check uploads in the blockchain without directly accessing them. Only the user has access to the decryption keys for uploaded files. All files, data and metadata entering the Storj network is encrypted through public key encryption through the Metadisk client, ensuring malicious entities cannot spy on, fake or modify the data. Metadisk operates autonomously and automatically as a peer-to-peer network of nodes running open-source code.
Typically amongst cloud service providers, users are expected to pay for storage and the server, staff and power costs of such an enterprise beyond a limited freebie of data. Whilst using Storj and Symform does not entail such costs due to the decentralised distributed nature of the networks, only Storj rewards and incentivises storage providers for their vital role in the network. Most challenges encountered by decentralised network applications are linked to the limited availability of resources and the difficulty of managing and coordinating them.
Storj users can utilise for themselves as much storage as they contribute to the network, those who require beyond what they provide may purchase storage through Storjcoin X (SJCX). Farmers (analogous to the Bitcoin miner) or net storage contributors to the network, earn SJCX through Driveshare; as the amount of networked storage increases, the amount of storage that a SJCX can buy will also increase. Long-term sustainability in decentralised applications can only be achieved through provision of economic or utilitarian incentivisation akin to Bitcoin mining and Storj farming, ensuring there is always a sufficient amount of resources available at any given time.
Fundamentally, these technologies combine to build an automated, decentralised and more democratic cloud storage system than existing corporate models. As Amazon Zocalo, Dropbox, Google Drive, Apple and Microsoft vie for control of a growing cloud market, Storj threatens to radically secure, disrupt and democratise the cloud.