Data storage is not only one of the most important aspects of any computer system, but also one of the most attention and development it has received throughout history.
From archaic punched cards, through systems as peculiar as selectron tubes, to the optical, magnetic and solid state media we all know today, mankind has been constantly searching for new storage systems. Today, Blockchain technology is seen as a powerful candidate for the data storage of the future. The ultimate system?
What should a good storage medium look like?
Before going into detail about how Blockchain can be an alternative to traditional physical disks, it is worth reviewing some of the attributes that define a data storage system:
Volatility: a volatile memory is one that loses all data when the power supply is interrupted. It is the case of RAM memory and the reason why a server or computer loses all information that has not been recorded on disk in the event of a power failure. In contrast, mechanical or solid state hard disks are ‘non-volatile’ storage media.
Access: Does the term ‘Random Access’ ring a bell? It refers to the ability to consult at any time, any point in the memory. It contrasts with ‘Sequential Access’, characteristic of magnetic tapes and in which we can only access information in a certain order (in this case, following the path of the tape). Nowadays, however, most of the media to which we are accustomed are ‘random access’, allowing us to read or write directly in any memory location.
Mutability and performance: Mutability refers to the ability to overwrite stored information. Performance, as its name implies, the speed of reading and writing.
It is common to find storage media with different read and write speeds, for example, allowing data to be read at a much higher speed than its storage requires. According to the budget and the characteristics of our project, we can obtain a fast support in reading, fast in writing or that offers a good performance in both aspects.
Geographical location: another fundamental characteristic of a storage medium is its location. The fastest disk in the world is of no use to us if it is at the other end of the world and data transfer is a greater bottleneck than the speed of the disk itself.
Traditionally, geographical location has not been considered a characteristic of the storage medium, but since we consider ‘cloud storage’ as a solution in itself, we should take it into account as one more aspect.
Storage thanks to Blockchain: beyond the Cloud?
Now that we know some of the fundamental characteristics of storage media, we should ask ourselves how a system based on Blockchain will work and why is it so promising?
While the block chain already allows for the publication and decentralized storage of small amounts of data (balances, intelligent contracts, etc.), the average price may be too high except to publish a few MBs of information. Today the blockchain itself is not a viable support to host the 50,000 GB of data that are created in the world every second.
However, if we understand Blockchain for what it is: gross mode, a decentralized database, then we can imagine a system that uses this technology to store pointers or addresses that collect the actual location of the data, physically stored in geographically distributed servers and known as ‘nodes’.
By adding a computer system capable of encrypting, segmenting, redundant and distributing the information to these thousands of storage nodes, we obtain an extraordinarily resilient support: a support capable of resisting the fall of any (or even a majority) of the nodes and still maintain the integrity of our data indefinitely.
It should be noted that the operators of these nodes would not be lending their storage capacity for the love of art, but would receive recurring remuneration from the owner of the data. This financial compensation is a very important guarantee and incentive to ensure the persistence of the information we wish to store.
In this way, we are able to solve one of the most important challenges faced by any storage medium: the longevity of the data. In a system based on blockchain the information can last, in theory, indefinitely.
Additionally, the geographical distribution and the presence of thousands of nodes would not only provide additional protection against censorship attempts or computer attacks, but could also drastically reduce prices as a result of a very strong competitive pressure.
Storage forever, yes… but not too fast
The system proposed in the previous section is able to offer us a type of non-volatile storage (persistent), random access, mutable, secure and accessible from anywhere in the world. However, there is one characteristic in which it will not be able to compete with a system hosted in a translated Data Center: performance.
Decentralization and geographic distribution, the same aspects that allow information to last indefinitely on the network, are also a major obstacle when it comes to writing and reading data at high speeds.
Nowadays we are more and more accustomed to applications that provide results in real time: ecommerce, ERP programs, search engines, CRM software, etc.
All these environments require, precisely, to be able to obtain and store data in the shortest possible time to give the feeling of immediacy and can not afford the high latency times that probably involves this new technology based on blockchain.
The professional disc booths, located in specialized Data Centers, are designed with the objective of offering very high reading and writing speeds.
We are therefore faced with a partial solution that covers specific needs (archiving, long-term storage, ubiquitous access, low prices) and that will undoubtedly represent a breakthrough in industrial or domestic sectors where these features can be exploited.
It is not the panacea or definitive solution that many had prognosticated, but it is a technology that can complement the use of high-speed Flash disks in specialized Data Centers for those uses that require greater performance without renouncing the security or integrity of data.
Finally, we took the opportunity to recommend our Cloud servers with Flash disks in SW Hosting. The storage of the future based on Blockchain is not yet a reality, but the ultra-fast Flash disks for production environments that require a significant dose of performance, you can get them today.