The boom of Bitcoin and alternative cryptocurrencies put a spotlight on the blockchain – the technology on which these currencies are based. Although it has been around for more than 10 years, blockchain has just recently become a star. Amazed at the potential and possibilities of this technology, many businesses, and tech companies are exploring its possible applications in various concepts. If developed in a proper manner, blockchain technology will be highly secure and disallow fraud, making it particularly attractive for cloud computing.
The blockchain is a distributed public ledger and Internet-based computer network. Every computer on it is called a node and has to record every verified transaction or contract. Since there are many nodes in such a network, and every node has an entire record of all transactions constituting a blockchain, it is not possible to alter data on the network level, as it is required to do so on virtually all nodes. It is also a peer-to-peer network, meaning there is no master computer that can alter data systematically on its dependent nodes. Finally, transactions and contracts can never be reversed. All false records are discarded as soon as the network detects they don’t match with records on the remaining nodes.
The secure properties of blockchain drew the attention of cloud computing companies always looking for novel ways to improve security. The spotlight is on the Internet of Things (IoT) and it’s for many reasons:
IoT already runs on an infrastructure similar to blockchains. It is a network of connected devices and things, that can become blockchain nodes.
IoT devices which use minimum hardware resources, without any local storage, require cloud-based servers to operate properly. This way these devices largely depend on security measures applied on the cloud level. On a decentralized blockchain-backed cloud, these devices are blockchain clients.
Blockchain can also improve cloud storage. Such networks are already present, and they boast significant improvements in security, speed, uptime, and scalability.
Millions of peers in such a network would be a platform where those in need of more storage would hire free memory space from other users’ devices.
At this moment, available storage is the slowest growing tech resource on the planet. Most people are not aware of that as the amount of data required per person is still relatively small, but with the IoT and the multiplying number of sensors and connected devices that will send data to cloud networks, it will become a real problem in just several years. Storage limitation is already an impediment for 4K UHD television development: most TV networks aren’t eager to introduce these high resolutions, as storing 4K content is still economically unviable.
A possible solution is to hire unused data storage on other connected devices across the globe. There are millions of unused terabytes on computer hard disks, solid storages of laptops, mobile phones, and tablets. Those renting unused space over a blockchain-based network will be rewarded with cryptocurrency. Letting excess storage for use by others via a secure blockchain is comparable to “mining” cryptocurrencies. The main difference – instead of selling unused CPU and GPU power, the end user rents their free disk space and the link to it. The conception is thus called proof-of-space. Value/price of a single cryptocurrency token is defined by the current storage supply and demand.
Space sharing concept isn’t new, but it was previously seen as insecure. Let’s take BitTorrent as an example. It is a distributed, peer-to-peer network where people exchange their locally stored data. However, it is primarily used for illegal distribution of copyrighted content and software. Many files there – even those non-counterfeit might be illicit and contain spyware. Most users today regard to BitTorrent as to an entirely illegal or shady, though it actually isn’t. But it’s true these are insecure. Local computers in most cases only offered some essential data protection, and often there was no protection on local computers at all.
Blockchain can be much more secure while keeping all advantages of distributed, peer-to-peer computing. The proof-of-storage blockchain technology will also let individuals make additional income setting up mini data centers at home. It may change the future of cloud companies which should invest less in big data centers and switch to hiring storage from many individuals. It all will be helped by the expansion of fiber optic broadband and 5G mobile networks, as well as fast solid state disk (SSD) storage that can make mini data centers inexpensive to build.
Big data centers would, however, remain around to store important data from enterprises, government agencies and other large clients.
The total amount of data generated in 2013 alone was 3.5 billion terabytes. Estimates for 2020 is that there will be the need for at least 44 billion terabytes to store only the data generated during that year, or even more.
Information about the storage capacity of all computers and handhelds in private use is hard to find. But we know that in 2017 alone 400 million hard disks and 200 million solid state disks were shipped worldwide. Assuming an average capacity of these disks to be1 TB, this equals to 600 million terabytes. Multiply it by 5, which is the number of years an average hard disk lives, and you get 2500 exabytes. But don’t forget all the mobile phones, memory cards, USB pen sticks and similar local storage. These alone can have a meager portion of the global data storage supply but combined they represent a hidden treasure yet to be discovered and mined.