Decentralized Storage: RIF’s Approach to a Decentralized Internet
In today’s world, data is emerging as an increasingly valuable asset. From messaging a friend to hosting a complex Ecommerce website, a majority of our activities generate data. In the early days of computer technology, hardware such as floppy disks, CDs, flash drives or even HDDs were enough to store personal data. However, the Internet’s boom posed new challenges for data storage, primarily by increasing the data creation manifold. As we shifted from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0, centralized client-server models replaced individually-maintained servers.
Despite enhancing the user experience, this raised pertinent security and privacy concerns. In turn, there has been a drive towards decentralized storage solutions. Presently, blockchain technology is a major driver in the space and storage is one of its most sought-after use cases.
This article is an in-depth exploration of decentralized storage, with a focus on how it is foundational to the Web 3.0. Here, we will also discuss RSK’s approach to this subject and its solutions within this domain.
Problems of Centralized Storage
- Censorship & Espionage
- Data Loss & Deplatforming
- Revenues & Ownership
Decentralized Storage: The Foundation of Web 3.0
- The Working of Decentralized Storage
Advantages of Decentralized Storage
- Censorship Resistance
- Lower Costs
- Incentives & Revenue Sharing
The Potential Challenges to Decentralized Storage
- RIF Storage: Serving dApps Without Servers
- Collaborating for a Decentralized Cause
- Swarm Accounting Protocol (SWAP): Incentivizing Decentralized Storage
- Swarm Improvement Proposal (SWIP): Enhancing User Participation
- Serverless Websites Using RIF Storage
Problems of Centralized Storage
Owned and controlled tech giants, cloud servers have indeed enhanced speed, availability, throughput and latency in data storage. However, all this comes at a cost that is too heavy on the user. A thorough understanding of the need for decentralizing file storage presumes a basic knowledge of the problems of its centralized counterpart. The following are some of the major ones:
Censorship & Espionage
Authorities blocking access to certain websites or web-based services as per their convenience is a common happening around the world. For instance, TikTok was recently banned in many countries around the world, while Wikipedia is already blocked in some others. Not just platforms, any content that is hosted on centralized servers can be censored, simply by restricting users’ access to that particular server.
Furthermore, there have been several instances where the owners of these servers comply with authorities who pry on the users’ personal data and online activities.
Data Loss & Deplatforming
Service providers can decide to shut down their servers any day, leaving the user at loss for their data. Moreover, since all of the data is located in a single location, it is easier for hackers to breach these systems, causing heaving data loss for all parties involved. No matter how robust the security protocols, a single point of failure is always a compromise in itself.
Revenues & Ownership
As it is, the cost of storing data on cloud servers is also quite high. Moreover, centralized storage is extremely unfair in terms of revenue distribution. Users generate a majority of the web’s data, through online interactions, purchases or simply browsing. Even though users receive a free service, they do not receive any direct reward for their preference.
Decentralized Storage: The Foundation of Web 3.0
As a solution to the problems mentioned above, decentralized storage keeps files in multiple computers (nodes) around the world, instead of centralized locations. BitTorrent was among the first proponents of the idea of peer-to-peer data storage and transfer. However, since the protocol didn’t encrypt the file fragments, it remained vulnerable to security concerns.
In 2015, the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) was established and is now one of the foundations of blockchain-based decentralized storage systems. Simply put, IPFS combined the principles of decentralization with existing protocols like HTTP. In doing so, it represented another milestone in the evolution of decentralized storage.
As such, the complete potentials of blockchain technology can’t be realized unless there is a holistic change in information technology. In turn, this requires transformations at the basic level of the Internet’s infrastructure, wherein decentralized storage would be a major element. Furthermore, with the emergence of IoT, there is a greater need for secured, seamless and peer-to-peer systems information storage and security.
Taking these factors into consideration, decentralized storage is presently being hailed as one of the main pillars of Web 3.0.
The Working of Decentralized Storage: On-Chain & Off-Chain
Blockchain technology is building upon the basic principles of BitTorrent and IPFS while expanding the scope of decentralized storage. Although the security and reliability issues of former systems are significantly resolved, sharding is still the process’s primary cogwheel.
To put it simply, sharding is the process that allows the distributed storage of files in multiple locations, by breaking them up into pieces. Following this, the file-fragments are cryptographically encrypted and distributed among the nodes of the open blockchain network. In other words, a single node has only one fragment of the file, which is further duplicated to ensure redundancy (in case a particular node is down, the fragment can be accessed from another node).
With this understanding, we can now look into the two ways in which blockchain’s approach decentralized data storage: on-chain and off-chain.
As the name suggests, this approach stores data directly in the individual blocks of the chain. In the case of an attack, this ensures the benefit of complete data recovery and resynchronization. However, the process is highly expensive and not feasible for many, as it entails maintaining full nodes. These nodes have a copy of the blockchain’s complete database on their systems.
In its present state though, blockchain technology is not adequately scalable to hold all data on-chain. This could lead to an overloading of the network and prohibitive network fees, resulting in bloating. Consequently, most of the present-day blockchain storage solutions are off-chain.
Advantages of Decentralized Storage
So far, we have discussed the technical aspects of decentralized storage and its differences with traditional, centralized storage. Now, let us gauge its significance in terms of the tangible advantages that it offers.
Open blockchain networks are permissionless and no singular authority can control the data on these platforms. Since decentralized storage involves multiple data locations and not one, it’s impossible to block servers to restrict users’ access. For instance, if Wikipedia used decentralized storage for its file systems, no government could ban its use.
Eliminating the single point of failure is a major step forward in ensuring data security. In traditional data storage, hackers could break into a server and gain access to all the data stored therein. Fragmenting files, encrypting each fragment and storing them in multiple locations eliminates this possibility. It also protects users against data outages due to server breakdowns.
In the context of decentralized storage, one can be sure that the data is on the network but there’s no way of pinpointing its exact location. This makes data breaches extremely difficult and unfeasible, even if not impossible. Even with off-chain storage, breaching any particular node gives the hacker access to only one fragment of the file and not the whole. Moreover, the fact that users hold their encryption key is an added layer of security. Without the private key, no one can read their files even if they somehow gain access. This reinforces the concept of self sovereign identities which is key to decentralization.
While centralized storage networks are large, distributed storage is potentially infinite. Since data can be stored on nodes all around the world, the available storage space increases manifold. In turn, this results in much lower and sustainable storage costs, as compared to centralized cloud storage.
To reduce latency, centralized storage solutions require additional services like Content Delivery Network (CDN), which entails high overhead costs. In decentralized storage, data is inherently stored closer to the destination, which ensures faster transfers without additional costs or third-party services.
Moreover, the subscription charges for decentralized storage solutions are already much lower than their centralized peers. As blockchains become more scalable, prices will become more and more affordable compared to centralized options.
Incentives & Revenue Sharing
Security is not the only benefit that users gain by holding on to their private key. It also means they have complete control over who is leveraging their data, allowing them to generate revenues. In other words, decentralized storage allows users to sell their online data if desired.
On the other hand, nodes that offer their storage space also gain incentives in the process. Usually, the data owner pays them a fee using the blockchain network’s native cryptocurrency. Moreover, any node on an open network can offer their spare hard disk space and earn revenues. By connecting storage providers and data owners, blockchain is thus building new micro-economies around storage.
The Potential Challenges to Decentralized Storage
Despite unfurling several possibilities, the road to decentralized storage is not free from obstacles. Given the nascent stage of blockchain technology, its use for data storage poses some unique challenges.
Second, many are still unsure of using blockchains, given their convictions regarding its vulnerabilities. This is especially true for businesses that ultimately have a greater need for storage space, as compared to individual users.
Third, notwithstanding future potential, most blockchain-based solutions still have a lower performance record as compared to their traditional counterparts. Low scalability and lack of interoperability are among the major complaints against blockchain technology. Decentralized storage is not an exception in this regard. Although blockchain oracles and other solutions are being developed to solve these issues, a radical change could take a while.
Finally, decentralized storage solutions still lack the diversity and adaptability of centralized storage. Moreover, the solutions that exist usually offer weak user experience and lack the ease-of-access that the common users demand.
RIF Storage: Serving dApps Without Servers
As part of RSK’s larger vision of creating a complete decentralized infrastructure for the new web, RIF Storage is our contribution to decentralized storage. Over our long journey in this field, we have realized that there is a lack of a unified interface that developers can use to seamlessly serve their dApps using the available decentralized storage protocols.
Moreover, the execution of most of the available options is an extremely difficult task and requires a degree of expertise which only a few have. This is a major obstacle in the path of mainstream usage of decentralized storage. Alongside the perils of centralized storage, alleviating these difficulties is one of the biggest motivations behind the RIF Storage platform.
Using the censorship-resistant, permissionless, decentralized and unified RIFOS interface, users can seamlessly access and move between IPFS or SWARM. Equally resilient for both developers and end-users, RIF Storage ensures optimum data redundancy. It also prioritizes the user-centric ownership of data and allows developers to scale their applications without bearing the infrastructural costs.
Collaborating for a Decentralized Cause
We have closely studied the existing decentralized storage solutions, namely IPFS, Storj, Sia, MidSafe and Swarm among others. Based on our research, we have realized that Swarm is the most promising of these protocols, and more importantly, the best aligned to the existing RIF infrastructure. This was the first step to a collaboration that aims to propel decentralized storage to new heights. Backed by a strong theoretical framework, Swarm is one of the most popular decentralized solutions today.
Nevertheless, before the RIF-Swarm collaboration happened, the project was in need of reliable second-layer payment solutions. This was to be used to support micro-payments for the network’s incentivization scheme to ensure security and availability.
Swarm Accounting Protocol (SWAP): Incentivizing Decentralized Storage
The nodes that serve as storage locations have to remain connected to the network 24×7 and keep their device running at all times. As such, this is a strong requirement and some users would not be willing to participate. This is one of the major reasons why decentralized storage systems need to incentivize their storage providers. Moreover, incentives ensure that these nodes are accountable to the network and do not act in ways that affect overall integrity.
Laying the foundations for a fair incentivization system, the Swarm Accounting Protocol (SWAP) allows nodes to keep track of the amount of data they handle. It follows a “tit-for-tat” approach where the involved parties ideally send/receive equal chunks of data. For instance, A sends 50 chunks to B and receives 50 from her. However, it is not possible to always achieve this equilibrium for several reasons: disrupted usage, unequal storage capacity, etc. Suppose, A sends 50 chunks to B but receives only 25 from her. In this case, B pays 25 tokens to A.
Although simple, SWAP has great potential for making the RIF Storage network more resilient and faster in the future, primarily by motivating nodes to participate. Furthermore, it represents a no-cost entry gateway to the RSK-Ethereum ecosystem.
Swarm Improvement Proposal (SWIP): Enhancing User Participation
User participation is a foundational pillar of decentralized infrastructure. As the name suggests, SWIP is the process that allows anyone to suggest alterations and improvements to the open-source project. Since striking up the partnership, the RIF Storage team has initiated some necessary SWIPs on GitHub, mainly focusing on SWAP.
The first two involved the internal processing of money on the platform. Honey is Swarm’s internal accounting unit, which is convertible into currencies. In this context, the first SWIP suggested the Honey-to-Money Oracle which could be used to resolve the latest price of Honey. The second one was for a Message-to-Honey Oracle, which served a similar function concerning the price for Swarm messages or chunking requests.
The third SWIP was a suggestion to enable multiple payment methods on the network and is of more direct relevance to the end-user. Based on the Honey-to-Money Oracle, this would open a range of currency choices and also payment processing methods (Lumino, Lightning, etc).
The primary motivation behind this SWIP is to make the Swarm network agnostic to the methods of payment execution. In turn, this could enhance the platform’s adoption, while RIF ensures seamless second-layer payments.
Serverless Websites Using RIF Storage
RIFOS was built on the promise to enable a truly decentralized internet and we have been delivering strongly on that promise. RIF Storage is yet another stone laid to this foundation (the base layer) that we are building. Using RIF Storage to host the data, users can use other services like RIF Naming Service (RNS) which essentially replaces traditional DNS.
Driven by increasing digitization, more and more data is being generated every day. In turn, this is resulting in newer challenges to data storage. Presently, a majority of our data is stored on centralized servers that are managed by giant corporations. While this enables greater usability and better user experience, it involves pertinent concerns regarding the security and privacy of data.
Storing data on centralized servers results in a single point of failure. This allows service providers, governments, and other authorities to tap the client-server connection for monitoring. Users’ access to websites and other web services can be censored, simply by restricting communications with the servers. Moreover, it also significantly enhances the risks of other forms of data outages, hacks and breaches.
By distributing file systems across multiple nodes, decentralized storage solves the aforementioned problems. Over the past decade, the emergence of blockchain technology has opened new avenues for distributed file storage. Together, they are laying the foundations for the decentralized internet or Web 3.0, which promises to be more user-centric.
Powered by RSK, RIF Storage is RIFOS´ contribution to decentralized storage. Another step forward to our vision of a truly decentralized internet.