This is a guest post by Eddie Mitchell. Eddie is a seasoned writer on all things Blockchain and crypto and we look forward to publishing more of his work in the future!
Data storage and computer processing power are moving to the cloud as the physical constraints of modern hardware technology and economic viability become imperative for the modern world.
As the appetite for cheaper, faster, safer and bigger solutions increases, it appears as though blockchain technologies may be on the cusp of solving at least some of these problems.
Whilst traditional computing systems have developed significantly in processing power at a pace that has followed Moore’s Law for some time, the complexities of modern computing has raised the demand for power, stretching the Intel co-founders predictions to the point of collapse.
Five decades later, modern computers have flown wildly past his prediction but this increase in one area is not matched by other computational technologies, which has caused certain innovations such as cloud computing and distributed computing to come along.
Over the past decade or so physical constraints of putting billions of transistors onto smaller silicon pieces have increased whilst maximum clock speeds and thermal design power (TDP) have stagnated.
This brings with it a myriad of challenges and in the coming years, even Intel is preparing to adopt newer technologies for CPU chips in order to scale with the demand for power and reduce energy consumption.
As the new technologies emerge and the requirement for computational power intensifies, cloud computing and distributed computing are considered highly valuable in this era of artificial intelligence (AI), Autonomous Vehicles, Smart Cities and so on.
This has caught the imagination of several blockchain entrepreneurs and startups that are looking to combine, democratize, incentivize and upgrade these systems.
Cloud computing is seen as a partial solution to the physical scaling problem as it provides a number of functions that allow enterprises to compute instances, access storage resources and perform other functions such as Serverless computing through a scalable and remote server.
Famed examples of this are Amazon Web Services (AWS), a cloud computing service that provides global compute, storage, database, analytics, application, and blockchain deployment services amongst many others.
Microsoft Azure and Google also have cloud computing platforms in the race, with all three offering businesses varying degrees of expertise, making the prospect of having multiple cloud providers appear advantageous for businesses.
Both cloud and distributed computing are extremely similar at a conceptual level, however, distributed systems differ as they scatter tasks across single computers within the system to solve large singular problems.
It shares the workload across the network to maximize computing performance in a cost-effective way and is structured so that should a component fail, the rest are capable of carrying on until the goal is achieved. The World Wide Web and Facebook are prime examples of distributed systems.
Thanks to the flexibility of these models, organizations, and individuals have been able to access these technologies and utilize them for whatever their needs may be, though this facet of the computing industry is being upgraded with blockchain technology.
Blockchain technologies often present themselves as ‘solutions’ to existing problems and have become increasingly innovative with time.
Compared to some of the blockchain solutions, both cloud computing and distributed computing are generally considered to be expensive, and centralized systems are at risk of failing, though blockchain technologies have faults of their own.
Blockchain has the potential to make cloud computing solutions affordable to the ‘average’ person which can open up the services to a wider global market, one that is an already burgeoning market expected to be worth $441 billion by 2020.
A great example of blockchain based data storage is Siacoin; it’s a decentralized storage network (DSN) platform on which users contribute their own disk storage space to form a decentralized network where anyone with Siacoin tokens can rent storage, those who offer their storage space up for rent are compensated in the Sia cryptocurrency.
The model is rather simple and in terms of pricing, very modest. At the time of writing, it costs $0.44 USD for 1 Terabyte of storage per month. Cloud storage services listed here display a considerably higher price in comparison, with monthly costs for 1TB sitting anywhere between $5 USD and $12 on an average per-monthly basis.
Filecoin, MaidSafe, and Storj all operate on the ‘hard drive rental’ model; though they offer slightly different features and nuanced applications of the distributed ledger technology (DLT) for data storage in a bid to build on the successes of those that came before.
However, Siacoin falls short against mainstream centralized options like Dropbox or Amazon due to its slow speeds, which may be of some problem to those who work with time-sensitive data, but may prove a fair trade-off for those seeking security and privacy.
One of the best-known examples of a distributed computer network built on blockchain is Golem. The project was built on the Ethereum network and is a platform that provides a marketplace for buying and selling computer power, similar to that of Siacoin.
Golem, however, is geared toward solving computational problems by tapping a large pool of computing resources supplied by those connected to the network. It intends to make the paying for processing power scalable and granular, allowing those in need to outsource computational power to the Golem blockchain and pay for as many computations as they used.
Those on the other side of the Golem network can offer up their own computing power to the network and generate income selling computations in return for the Golem cryptocurrency.
‘The Airbnb of computers’
Self-described as a “distributed supercomputer” and dubbed as “the Airbnb of computers”, Golem initially found itself being utilized to render 3D graphics and VX pipeline processes, though now it is stepping into the realm of machine learning and other cutting-edge sciences such as “Protein folding simulations for Scientific Computing.”
With this market predicted to be presently worth around $130 billion USD, Golem is in an interesting position to claim a healthy stake, although it is not without its limitations.
Competitors like EOS also offer distributed computing but with more focus given to decentralized applications (dApps) and it wouldn’t be particularly hard for such projects to enter into a similar space as Golem.
Golem is presently limited in functionality and has been criticized previously for being too slow. Furthermore, it relies heavily on the Ethereum network to scale and function despite not utilizing an ERC20 token, which can affect if and when users will actually utilize the solution in the event that gas costs are too high, amongst other issues.
The worldwide market size for overall public cloud services is growing exponentially, mainstream blockchain adoption could see this number increase drastically or, it is possible the limitations of early DLT platforms will cause traditional services to steamroll the inefficiencies of present blockchain solutions, leaving them to niche audiences.