February 3, 2023

This post was originally published on Aleph.im

Cloud computing has become a de facto for most businesses around the world, and for a good reason. They provide scalability on demand and shorten an application’s time to market.

But it comes with a caveat too large to ignore — companies have no choice but to trust a centralized service provider(s) with all their data and play by their rules. This has adverse consequences for companies and their customers (as we’ll see in the subsequent sections of the article), which has prompted the need for decentralized cloud computing services.

In this article, we’ll look at what decentralized cloud computing is and how it addresses the drawbacks of centralized computing services.

What is Decentralized Cloud Computing?

Decentralized cloud computing refers to a peer-to-peer network where anyone from across the globe can provide computing resources to others. The peers often earn tokenized incentives for their contribution to the network.

At the core of the decentralized cloud computing model lie blockchains and smart contracts. Blockchains enable multiple distributed nodes to agree in consensus on transactions and smart contracts permit complex operations without the need for any central authority.

Before we dive deeper into these concepts, let’s look at how cloud computing has evolved over the years and what led to the need for a decentralized cloud computing alternative.

How Cloud Computing Evolved Over the Decades

The concept of cloud computing came into existence when in 1963, the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) presented MIT with a $2 million fund for Project MAC.

As a part of the project, MIT aimed to “allow many users access to the programs of a single computer from various locations.” As a result, the project enabled multiple users at different locations to run a program centrally located on just one machine.

1990s

In the early 90s, time-sharing gave way to Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).

These VPNs logically isolated sections of a public cloud and provided a virtual private environment so organizations could switch traffic as needed and use the overall network bandwidth more efficiently at a low cost.

Leading the technological shift further, Salesforce launched in early 1999, marking one of the most significant events in the journey of cloud technology. The company uses the cloud to deliver software programs to end users.

2000s

Amazon launched its subsidiary Amazon Web Services (AWS) in July 2002. The project was aimed at providing on-demand cloud computing services and APIs to companies, individuals, and governments on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Later, in 2006, AWS launched Amazon S3 services and Amazon EC2 to provide object storage services and cloud-computing services for enterprise customers.

Following Amazon’s lead, Google launched the beta version of Google App Engine in April 2008, which was the iteration of platform-as-a-service (PaaS) systems. Its goal was to minimize the administrative tasks associated with using the infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) model — the cloud service model that Amazon provided — and enable developers to deploy applications and scale them based on demand.

2010s

Microsoft launched Microsoft Azure in 2010 to manage applications via Microsoft-managed data centers.

Oracle announced the Oracle Cloud in 2012, and it became the first cloud that offered enabled access to an integrated set of cloud solutions such as software-as-a-service (SaaS), PaaS, and IaaS service models.

In the same year, Google launched the Google Compute Engine, which allowed companies to launch on-demand virtual machines — a form of virtual computer with its own dedicated CPU and storage abstracted from the hardware. Since then, cloud services have evolved to become highly efficient.

This led almost every organization with a digital presence to actively or passively adopt cloud services. And while not everything about cloud computing is promising, it’s important to understand the role it plays today.

Why is Cloud Computing Important?

The demand for cloud computing continues to grow, and the market is expected to reach $494 billion in 2022. And this increased demand can be attributed to the following benefits:

  • Increased speed and agility: Cloud computing makes new IT resources
    easily and instantly accessible in a cloud computing environment. This reduces resource availability time — the time needed to access resources like memory, servers, etc. — from a few weeks to just a few minutes.
    As a result, the organization becomes much more agile because it is much cheaper and quicker to experiment and develop new ideas.
  • Cost savings: With cloud computing, you’re no longer required to purchase software packages for every computer in your organization or invest in hardware because your service provider takes care of everything. This leads to savings in infrastructure, software, and maintenance costs.
  • Convenience: It’s far less demanding to create and maintain an application on the cloud than on your own as you leave the administration of infrastructure to your service provider instead of using up your resources on them.
  • Accessibility: Cloud computing makes data available wherever you are anytime you need it. You’re also not limited to working on a single PC as your “cloud PC” allows you to work from anywhere while ensuring that your existing applications and documents follow you through the cloud.
  • Automatic software updates: With cloud computing, you don’t have to worry about constant software upgrades to your system, as your service provider takes it off your plate.

It would be cynical to argue against the importance of cloud computing in the internet age. But one can’t also ignore the critical problems associated with the current centralized cloud models. These problems call for a better, more efficient alternative.

To get a better idea, let’s look at the challenges that cloud computing brings.

Why Move Away From Centralized Cloud Computing?

As we discussed above, centralized cloud computing has significant benefits, however, there are critical problems that need addressing.

Cloud Outage

A cloud outage refers to the time span during which a cloud provider’s services are unavailable to end users due to infrastructural issues such as power failure, bugs, natural disasters, etc.

For instance, two simultaneous fiber cuts in Google Cloud’s Middle East network caused a cloud outage for users outside the US and led to network connectivity issues and packets being lost in transit.

Although there’s no difference between an on-site data center going down and a cloud outage — you lose assets in both — — the hands-off approach in cloud computing adds another consideration to the mix.

You have little to no visibility and control over the problem, so there’s no way of knowing what went wrong or when the services will go back online.

Distributed-Denial-of-Service (DDoS) Attacks

DDoS is a cloud-specific attack where multiple machines called “botnets” attack a cloud and overwhelm it by sending a large amount of unwanted traffic to the network. Ultimately, this causes the resources to become unavailable to the user.

These attacks are hard to detect as it’s difficult to filter out DDoS traffic due to the distributed nature of the bots sending the traffic. This presents a critical situation for cloud-based platforms as they can impede the functionality of the app to varying degrees depending on the nature of the attack.

For instance, in the DDoS attack on Andorra Telecom in January 2022, more than 62.5% of the nation’s population was left without an internet connection for more than half an hour as attackers targeted the participants in an online Spanish-speaking tournament being streamed live on Twitch.

Data Breaches

Although businesses today reap the many benefits that cloud services offer, they’re also making themselves prone to data breaches. This is because cloud service providers create room for a single point of failure, offering attackers a target to exploit and gain unauthorized access to the data of legitimate users.

One way this attack can happen is through weak identity and access management (IAM) policies. IAM is a way of controlling the permissions and access for users of cloud resources.

If an attacker gains access to employee credentials, they can use that to infect or steal your company data.

Another way an illicit actor can gain entry into your company’s files is through misconfigured and insecure APIs. For instance, a misconfigured S3 bucket — a type of cloud storage service that allows you to store object data within containers called buckets — resulted in a data breach that exposed 3 terabytes of records including names and addresses of airport personnel working in four different airports.

The exposed data contained Personally Identifiable Information (PII), including names, photos, occupations, and National IDs of staff, along with important information on the airlines and their aircraft.

How Does Decentralized Cloud Computing Solve These Problems?

Although centralized tech giants still dominate cloud computing today, decentralized cloud computing services that leverage blockchain technology have started to see a growing demand.

To understand why they’re becoming popular, let’s circle back to how decentralized cloud computing works: –

A decentralized computing service simply consists of a network of people and companies that contribute their computing resources to create a massive network of computing devices spread across the globe.

For example, if you wanted to upload a video you shot at a friends birthday party, you need to start by requesting computing power and storage to a decentralized cloud computing platform like Aleph.im.

Your request is communicated to the nodes, who then offer the computing power and storage you requested. In return, the distributed nodes providing storage space in the network earn an incentive in the form of fees paid by the user.

With the basics taken care of, let’s take a look at the advantages of decentralized cloud computing over centralized cloud computing: –

  • No single point of failure: Since the client machines aren’t relying on a single server to fulfill all requests, users can continue working on their applications even if a single node fails. This also means that an attack like DDoS won’t take down the entire system.
  • Distributed workload: The architecture of the decentralized cloud computing systems allows the workload to be distributed among multiple computing nodes. This guarantees reliability, as the system can direct the workload to other nodes across the globe if a certain node becomes unresponsive under any circumstance.
  • Near 100% uptime: Decentralized computing servers have thousands of nodes spread across the globe, making it easier for the server to offer near 100% uptime. That is because the widely distributed network is resistant to being hacked all at once or being affected by natural disasters or power outages at the same time..
  • Absence of intermediaries: Decentralized cloud computing services don’t require users to rely on centralized intermediaries like AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud. Thus, the cost of operations is lowered and users can avail of services at lower prices.
  • Private: Encryption at all levels ensures maximum security in decentralized computing systems. Hence, a user’s data is protected while at rest or in transit. In other words, data breaches are extremely difficult if not impossible, and even if the attackers manage to hack the system, they will only get access to encrypted data, which isn’t the case with many centralized cloud computing service providers.
  • Fair payment terms: The transactions for decentralized cloud computing resources can be enforced by smart contracts based on blockchain. Many decentralized providers secure the network by offering fiat or token incentives to pay node operators for offering up their computing power.

Future of Cloud Computing

Industry analysts equate traditional cloud infrastructure with its central points of failure and weak security. In fact, most cloud service providers don’t even guarantee data protection and integrity, especially when attacks and data breaches are becoming more commonplace.

Cloudflare’s DDoS threat report shows that DDoS attacks have increased significantly this year:

Further, a recent Uptime Institute report states that “one in five organizations report experiencing a “serious” or “severe” outage (involving significant financial losses, reputational damage, compliance breaches and in some severe cases, loss of life) in the past three years, marking a slight upward trend in the prevalence of major outages.”

In addition to that, the growing mistrust in central entities is the reason companies are slowly transitioning towards decentralized cloud computing service providers like the one we offer at Aleph.im. Our cloud infrastructure aims to provide end users with more security and power over their data, rather than the big centralized providers who often harvest or sell our data without our consent.

We at Aleph.im are leading the charge for decentralized computing services and powering a range of decentralized cloud infrastructure through our cutting-edge technology.

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What is the Future Of Cloud Computing? was originally published in Aleph.im on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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