Data storage has many fundamentals, but a key one is the idea that what we store should be or form part of a single, reliable copy.
This is what is being strived for in concepts such as the file system, with its locking mechanisms to ensure the integrity of a file as it is worked on, for example.
We know this is not practically achieved more widely and that multiple versions of files proliferate across corporate storage systems, via emails, the internet etc.
But, in some use cases it is absolutely essential that there is a single version of the truth, for financial transactions or in areas such as health records.
There are also good economic reasons to want to keep single copies of data. It’s simply cheaper than unnecessarily holding multiple iterations of files.
Enter Blockchain, which provides a self-verifying, tamper-proof chain (sharded, encypted and distributed) of data that can be viewed and shared – openly or via permissions – and so provides a single version of the truth that is distributed between all users.
It has, therefore, key qualities sought in providing storage. The Blockchain itself is in fact stored data, though practically it’s not a great idea to chain together more than small blocks because the whole chain would become too unwieldy.
So, it’s not storage as we know it. However, but some startups have started to apply Blockchain to storage.
These services allow “farmers” to offer spare hard drive capacity in return for cryptocurrency. The actual data is sharded and encrypted in redundant copies and protected by public/private key cryptography.
The Blockchain stores information such as shard location, that the farmer still has that shard and it is unmodified.
Storj and Sia offer storage at something like one tenth the cost of Amazon S3 because there are no datacentres to maintain.
Meanwhile, Blockchain has been brought into use to manage the storage of health records.
Like Storj and Sia, the data isn’t actually held on the chain, but is referenced and protected from it. Already, Estonia’s entire health records repository is kept this way.
There are other limited or private use cases too, such as backup product maker Acronis, which uses Blockchain to verify data held in its Acronis Storage cloud.
All this points in the direction of a potentially useful secondary/nearline storage use cases based on Blockchain. An organisation could make use of unused storage capacity around the datacentre in the manner of Storj or Sia and so achieve much better utilisation.
There may be products out there already that do this, and I’m sure their representatives will let me know, if they exist.
Meanwhile, there are much grander future scenarios based on Blockchain in development such as BigChainDB’s Inter-Planetary Database, that aims to be the database for the “emerging decentralized world computer”.
Somewhere down the line the Storj/Sia model could be universally applied to public cloud storage, but for now – given concerns over bandwidth and security in the public cloud – distributed private cloud based on Blockchain management would be a reasonable target.