Just a few decades ago, most of us were completely unaware that the future would involve us being glued to our phones and spending hours of the day surfing the World Wide Web. Just as the dawn of the Internet has changed the way we do things, the introduction of cryptocurrencies and blockchains is exerting an increasingly noticeable and powerful presence on modern-day living. Today, there’s an ever-growing number of blockchains competing for business, but which is best, what do the various options offer, and how can you make a decision? Hopefully, this guide will shed some light on the main distributed and decentralized storage options available today.
Comparing distributed and decentralized storage options
Although Bitcoin has made waves and opened up possibilities for many others, it’s not the only name worth investigating. As cryptocurrencies and blockchains have evolved and become more commonplace, a host of new options has appeared with many focusing on distributed and decentralized storage. Blockchains are changing the way we use the Internet and more specifically, the way we access, share and store data. We’re moving from centralized systems to decentralized networks, and there’s a host of blockchain-based platforms competing for business. Here are some of the names hitting the headlines.
SIA offers access to decentralized cloud storage platforms for renters looking to make use of cheaper, faster means of using data centers that are open to anyone and not governed by a single authoritative source. Siacoin is based on an independent Sia blockchain and agreements are made between a storage renter and a provider. The main aim, according to SIA, is to take advantage of free space and create the world’s biggest virtual server.
To use SIA, a file agreement must be completed between the user and the data storage provider. The renter pays Siacoins to the blockchain, and if the stipulations of the contract are met, the provider receives payment. If the contract doesn’t run as anticipated, the coins are returned to the renter. SIA currently has around 330 hosts globally.
Just as you can earn cash in the real world for renting out extra space at home, you can also benefit from spare storage space as a Sia user. If you’re not using all your storage, you can then form agreements with other users. Competition helps to drive down costs, and you’ll only ever pay for the storage you use. Prices change, but you can expect to pay in the region of 109 Siacoins or $1 per TB/month.
SIA’s founder, David Vorick, claims that SIA is the only fully decentralized system. Using SIA involves entering into a smart contract, which results in data being split by means of a method called erasure coding. The pieces that are formed are all unique, and they are coded in a complex manner that means that any 10 out of 30 created fragments can be combined together to recreate the original file.
Storj is an encrypted, peer to peer blockchain-based network, which gives you access to your encrypted data. Billed as a community cloud, this system claims to be the fastest and most secure cloud storage system. Storage can be rented, and any extra storage you have that you don’t use can be sold on to others. Storj has recently been migrated from Bitcoin (Counterparty) to Ethereum blockchain.
Storj users are also known as farmers. If you’re a farmer, you have the right to allocate any space you’re not using to other users in the network. If you choose to do this, you’ll be rewarded in the form of an ERC20 compatible STORJ token (on the Bitcoin network it was known as Storj Coin X or SJCX – it was migrated 1:1 to Ethereum STORJ tokens). Any STORJ transactions are recorded on the Ethereum blockchain.
To distribute data on the Storj network, users utilize encrypted shards, which are stored in a number of nodes. These nodes have multiple copies of the same data, which means that it’s possible for users to access data even if the node happens to go offline. As a distributed network, the risk of downtime is much lower than centralized systems and the peer-to-peer capability also reduces download speed. Storj users also only pay for the storage they use. Users can expect to pay in the region of $0.015/GB for storage per month.
MaidSafe is a private corporation, which is based in Scotland. Work on the SAFE network has been underway since 2006, and the company has attracted a growing network of users, also known as renters. MaidSafe offers secure storage, as well as the ability to access decentralized resources. When you upload a file to the SAFE network, your personal files are fragmented into tiny pieces, which are then distributed around the platform. As distribution is redundant, a system of nodes is used, and this increases both security and accessibility. If a node isn’t available online, the presence of countless other nodes will enable the user to access the different fragments and subsequently recover and piece together the file.
MaidSafe uses a currency known as Safecoins, which are not stored on a specific blockchain. Instead of making encrypted records on the blockchain, a different system is used to prevent double spending. The coins have a unique ID and transactions are supervised by managers, which form a group that replaces the blockchain. You can use your Safecoins to make purchases. The cost of storage and other resources is dependent upon demand and also, the availability of resources. The owners suggest that storage will be ‘significantly cheaper’ than centralized storage systems like Dropbox due to lower overheads.
Which option is best?
These platforms operate in a similar way, but there are differences. Storj is currently supported by the Ethereum blockchain and SIA has an independent blockchain. MaidSafe has no blockchain and instead, uses coins that carry a unique ID and a network of transaction managers. Storj has a more significant media profile and recent integration with FileZilla has made it even easier to set up. However, many users prefer the reliability of SIA, as contracted agreements protect both the provider and the renter. Going forward, you may well find that Storj considers the smart contract approach that is already used by Sia and MaidSafe. Predicting prices can be difficult, as demand changes and competition is constant, although there are no wildly different tariffs that would sway you from one to another based solely on price. SIA currently seems to be the most decentralized system, and already in production, while MaidSafe is still in alpha development phase. MaidSafe offers a more diverse range of uses, with access to Internet resources, but for storage purposes, it seems hard to look past SIA.
Are blockchains just a bubble and which blockchains will survive?
As with every noteworthy invention, there has been a fair bit of speculation related to the relevance and long-term value of blockchains and blockchain-based networks and storage systems. The difficulty is that if you read 10 articles on this subject, you would probably get ten different points of view.
It’s true to say that not every system has been successful, and many have tried and failed. It’s no secret that 90 percent of startups fail, and trying to get a new cryptocurrency or a cloud system or token-based network off the ground is no easier than launching a new recruitment agency, hair salon or accounting firm. Every business faces challenges, but you can’t deny the success of founding systems like Bitcoin.The evolution of cryptocurrencies and blockchains has opened up new opportunities, and these are changing the way we use the Internet. More and more people are investing in blockchain technology, and it’s offering Internet users access to resources and data storage options that are cheaper, faster and arguably, much more secure. By diversifying and catering to changing demands and preferences, platforms like Bitcoin, Storj, MaidSafe, and SIA are giving themselves the best chance of survival.