What Can Blockchain Do For Data Storage?

Blockchain. It’s a concept that has a great deal to offer – including everything from giving logistics companies constant sight on the location of their supplies or ensuring that proper royalties are paid for music.

It feels like the possibilities are increasing all the time, and now it could even prove to be the catalyst for changing the recognised face of data storage. Typically, we think about storage as something that’s located on-premises, in the public cloud or in a colocation facility. But blockchain offers the prospect of creating a secure yet decentralised storage. It offers the chance for what could be defined as ‘a storage marketplace’.

An electrical grid, but for storage

Storage can easily become a source of real frustration for businesses, who often find there is never the right amount available for what they need. What’s ironic in these circumstances, is that whilst enterprises are continually caught trying to secure more capacity, storage providers and data centres are scratching their heads wondering what they’ll do with their own excessive space to fill. Thankfully virtualisation and storage enhancements have mitigated these issues to a certain extent, but spare capacity is still being wasted when it could be put to far better use.

The time has never been better to think differently. What if there was a way to allow organisations to buy and sell storage, in a fashion similar to a traditional marketplace? It could be likened to an electrical grid, where power companies buy and sell electricity to each other to match appropriate supply and demand. Shortfalls could be made up as well as monetising excess storage. The end user would still get the services they need, but it would easier to manage the storage.

Akin to the principles of an electrical grid, the marketplace for storage would operate with both storage providers and consumers all underpinned by blockchain. Blockchain could enable a seamless transition for customer data to the most appropriate location, based on parameters like performance, policy and service level agreements. It would be a new, distributed model for storage.

What’s wrong with using the cloud?

With the use of public cloud continuing to grow, questions could be raised on why you would want to use this distributed model, given the renowned flexibility offered by cloud technology. But the hyperscale public cloud, for all its popularity, does have limitations. Speed of service, bandwidth and latency – all of these can have an effect. Cloud service providers are also vulnerable to the damage that can be caused by malicious acts and outages, which can be especially be harmful to the businesses paying to rely on their services.

The distributed storage model eliminates these kinds of risks by allowing organisations to quickly and easily access extra capacity as needed. As a result, businesses can operate more efficiently and bring in a much clearer return on investment.

Three factors for success

 Making the storage marketplace a reality starts with implementing high performance distribution via peer-to-peer content sharing – a method which is already in use at organisations like Microsoft. The key advantage comes from the reduction of pressure and stress on one single hub, as well as being able to offer higher speed of service by receiving smaller parts of files from multiple different locations.

Security is the next concern that is never far away when storage is discussed. Confidentiality, availability and integrity are the top three considerations here and any storage method that can’t guarantee these will not useful for long.

Confidentiality can be achieved with well-established techniques like encryption. The storage marketplace, particularly if it makes use of peer-to-peer functionality, can also very easily guarantee accessibility. By being able to ensure that every piece of data is stored in multiple and redundant locations, no one individual storage node is a liability. Integrity is about ensuring the content and format of the data remains the same as its stored, shared and received. The strong user access controls enabled by blockchain technology (and the ledger it underpins) can achieve this.

The final concern is the marketplace itself. The distribution model needs a way of tracking every sale and purchase of capacity to truly work. Transactions also need to be secured for anyone to benefit or have trust in the system.

Where blockchain fits

Blockchain is the technology at the heart of ensuring both the security of the distributed model as well as the operation of a marketplace. Blockchain guarantees every action recorded as data is segmented and distributed across the grid. With a known ledger in place, activity outside it can be prevented. Blockchain also supports improved availability, because the physical location of the data can be decentralised. When capacity is removed from the marketplace the data could be automatically moved elsewhere.

Finally, blockchain will provide proof of ownership, not only confirming that the data exists but so to the contracts between the appropriate buyers and sellers. By providing clear evidence of transactions, blockchain can eliminate the need for manual tracking of exchanges and create greater confidence in the whole system.

Overcoming sensitivities about storage

The advent of the cloud has seen storage already go some way to becoming a commodity. A marketplace for storage would therefore seem like the next logical step. Adopting such a new distributed model, however, is much more of a hurdle for businesses to overcome in their mindset. The traditional point of view is that secure and trusted data must be stored centrally. After all, this information is increasingly the sole revenue source of businesses, so why should they work to radically change how it’s stored if a perceived level of safety and compliance can be assured by sticking to the status quo? More progressive thinking will take time to develop.

The marketplace model is not far off, as the technology needed to make it a reality already exists. For businesses willing to take the plunge and adopt a more forward-thinking approach, there could be major opportunities. More responsive networks, boosted efficiency and a reduction in latency are just the start, not to mention a new untapped revenue source. A new storage paradigm is right around the corner.

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