Scaling Cloud Storage through Blockchain


The innovative distributed services emerging these days clearly demonstrate that the use of blockchain extends well beyond just being a distributed ledger. Industries that were so deeply centralized are getting disrupted by blockchain, and cloud computing is no exception. Up until now, cloud computing was dominated by just a handful of tech giants – Google (Cloud Platform), Amazon (Web Services), Microsoft (Azure) and specialized companies like DigitalOcean. Even cloud storage was dominated by companies like Dropbox, Box, Google (Drive) and Apple (iCloud). Just as cloud computing is being disrupted by services like SONM (through fog computing), the cloud storage industry is also getting glimpses of blockchain adoption.

There have been multiple players in this emerging domain, namely FileCoin, SiaCoin, and Storj. Here’s an informative report on how these compare against one another in terms of token supply, circulation, and rate of issuance. This post walks through the work of SiaCoin’s team and the technology behind their storage service. SiaCoin was chosen for this post simply because it seemed the most data-driven and had presented its stats comprehensively. The company aims to lower the cost of cloud storage and provide more service which is more reliable than that of traditional cloud monarchies.

The official website describes Sia as “a decentralized storage platform secured by blockchain technology. The Sia Storage Platform leverages underutilized hard drive capacity around the world to create a data storage marketplace that is more reliable and lower cost than traditional cloud storage providers.” The company’s focus is on 4 key features: privacy, affordability, reliability, and technological forward-thinking. For privacy, Sia’s blockchain encrypts and shreds your files, and then distributes the file shreds across its decentralized network. It gives you control of your private keys and so only you can access your data. For the end user, however, all these details are essentially abstracted out and the interface just feels like a regular cloud storage service or a file manager. Since you are the only one in command of your data, no third-party company can access your files, unlike traditional cloud storage providers. Also, storing your files on Sia costs about a tenth of the equivalent cost on traditional platforms. This is because there is no massive-scale centralized management involved. The storage nodes are, of course, distributed. As mentioned on Sia’s website, “Storing 1TB of files on Sia costs about $2 per month, compared with $23 on Amazon S3.” And even though costs are drastically reduced, the reliability is not compromised. The blockchain distributes and stores redundant file segments on nodes across the globe, thereby eliminating single points of failure. This results in an uptime that competes hard with that of cloud storage giants. Let’s say an individual node has a failure rate of p. And that there are n independent nodes in our distributed storage system. So the chances of them failing altogether are about n^p. So, if our network has nodes that have a 20 percent failure rate, and 10 of them have to fail for the system to fail, our system has about 1- (0.2)^10 = 99.9999% reliability. Distributed drives have, in practice, much smaller failure rate, and usually way more than 10 nodes need to fail for the system to fail. Furthermore, Sia’s implementation is completely open-sourced, and it welcomes code contributions from all across the globe. The Sia developer community is also growing fast and developers are building distributed apps (dApps) that leverage Sia’s API. As of this writing, there are about 47 significant code contributors to Sia’s base from all over the world, and they have collectively committed about 9000 times (Consider a commit to be a single code contribution across multiple source files. This is a common term used in version control).

On top of these, Sia is, with other distributed cloud storage platforms, paving the way for a whole new marketplace – a marketplace of buying and renting storage spaces. In the direct words of the Sia team, “using the Sia blockchain, Sia creates a decentralized storage marketplace in which storage providers compete for your business, which leads to the lowest possible prices. Renters pay using Siacoin, which can also be mined and traded.” Thus, renters have the incentive to also keep the failure rate small, thereby increasing the reliability even beyond 99.99%!

The SiaCoin platform, as of this writing, is scaling well. 5.4 petabytes of storage is available, there have been 800+ storage providers, 178 terabytes of storage has already been utilized and SiaCoin has reached about $700 million market capitalization. Just like other blockchain ventures, we need to give SiaCoin some more time to unleash its true potential and see whether it stands by its promises. Time will tell whether platforms like Sia are able to democratize the cloud storage industry.

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Saurabh Chaturvedi is a freelance developer and technical writer with a keen interest in blockchain, Bitcoin, and other cryptocurrencies.

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