September 16, 2016

Block Chain Meet Storage, Part 1

I have lots of stuff. More stuff than is necessary, but regardless, there is a lot of it. Files, pictures (mostly pics of my kids), videos, movies, music, you name it - I've got it. The costs of cloud storage have gone down substantially, but something that has increased is the concern around privacy. How can I store all of my base in the cloud, gaining all of those wonderful advantages like anywhere access, never losing a file due to hardware failure, etc while still maintaining the control and privacy controls to make sure that no one but me can see the pics of my kiddos, or my tax returns? Enter, dear friend, the Block Chain.

Now to get started, we must consider if this is a solution in search of a problem. We have established players in this space - Dropbox, Box, the most excellent OneDrive, OwnCloud, etc. While these address the first great thing about cloud storage - reliability and access anywhere, they are centrally controlled entities and vulnerable to the things we all know are vulnerabilities with these solutions. That second piece is just as important: control and privacy without the need to trust a third party. It's important to realize that storing data in the Block Chain itself is a terrible idea. In fact, it is so terrible, I'm just going to go out and say it - don't do it! One should store large quantities of data in what is called a side chain and hash against it in the Block Chain. Using the Block Chain to store verifiable and cryptographically secure hashes of my data IS a good scenario for the Block Chain. The Block Chain provides us with that opportunity to leverage its immutable and distributed properties to validate the contents of my side chain are valid and complete. So, no, this isn't a solution in search of a problem, it is the foundation of a whole new capability of massive online storage but, unlike Dropbox and OneDrive, with no centralized authority or control AND can provide the guarantee of immutability of the actual data if supported.

There are other benefits to the notion of Block Chain based storage solutions. Built in to every computer these days are TBs of storage space that will likely go unused over the life of the PC. I have a Dell crossover tablet at home that has a 1TB SSD in it. I could load everything I could think into it and I'd still have hundreds of GBs just sitting there. So, why not put that storage to purpose and, possibly, get paid to do it? Block Chain based storage provides an avenue to rent out my spare storage in a way that is similar to how you can rent out your spare CPU for good causes like Folding@Home or some other P2P computation system. In the next part of my little tour down Block Chain Avenue, I'll dive in to a number of my favorite Block Chain based storage tools and compare/contrast them.