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Storj decentralized cloud object storage takes on skeptics

Storj's new Tardigrade cloud object storage uses spare storage and bandwidth from tech-minded individuals, businesses and regional data centers in 85 countries.

Storj Labs launched a new Tardigrade cloud object storage service to give businesses an alternative that spreads data across close to 6,000 nodes from independent operators in 85 countries.

Storj executive chairman Ben Golub claimed the decentralized approach would bring customers enterprise-grade durability, availability and performance at less the cost that traditional cloud providers charge with a superior security model.

But some users that have following the blockchain-influenced Storj technology since its beta days find they need to do a bit of convincing to explain the merits of the decentralized cloud storage model to skeptics.

"I was constantly asked: 'So, in what data center are you storing my data?' " said Razvan Rosca, CEO of CNCTED, a Romania-based global cloud storage and hosting provider with customers mainly in the U.S. and Europe. "I replied: 'There's no huge, single data center. Your data will be split and distributed all around the world, and that's the whole point of the system."

Data sharded across 80 sites

Storj uses client-side encryption, with customers controlling the keys, to secure data. Reed-Solomon erasure coding spreads pieces of the files across 80 or more uncorrelated nodes run by independent operators. The system requires only 29 of the 80 data shards to reconstruct a file.

CNCTED CEORazvan Rosca

Nearly 6,000 individuals, businesses and regional data centers with spare storage capacity and bandwidth have become Storj Storage Node Operators (SNOs) and use different power supplies, equipment and networks. Before accepting a SNO into the network, Storj vets each one for at least a month by pushing a small amount of data to check response and uptime and issuing random cryptographic challenges to make sure the operators store what they say they're storing, Golub said.

"Each [SNO] sees only a fraction of a fraction of a file, and everything is encrypted. That's part of how we get the security and availability and reliability out of the network," Golub said. "We can't mine your data. There's no technical way for us to mine your data."

Partners that send data to Tardigrade receive a share of the revenue that Storj generates. Storj uses a blockchain-based payment mechanism to compensate the SNOs but doesn't use blockchain technology for most of the basic storage operations because it's too slow, according to Golub.

There's no technical way for us to mine your data.
Ben GolubExecutive chairman, Storj

Rosca said he has been active in the blockchain and AI industry and followed Storj since its 2014 founding. His company tested Tardigrade last fall and started copying production data in February. CNCTED currently stores about 120 TB of large videos, photos, backups and archives in the Tardigrade service, with its clients "who were more open to change and agreed to make the switch," Rosca said.

"In the near future, we will benchmark this into production, have more data and learn more about this, so we will be able to present this way more easily and with more confidence," Rosca said. "It's not a technical problem. It's a human problem."

Rosca noted that Storj is not the first or only cloud storage provider to take a decentralized approach. But he said Storj offered the best balance of support and integration with an S3 gateway, through Minio software.

Cost vs. major cloud providers

Other pluses of the decentralized model for Rosca include performance and cost, especially over the "big three." Rosca said Amazon, Google and Microsoft deliver good speed when customers are located close to their data centers, but users often have to replicate data to multiple regions or availability zones to get high performance when they're far away. He said Tardigrade delivers data from the closest physical location and charges less than what they would pay for a single copy stored in AWS.

"Some people may be concerned that data is stored on other people's computers, but that is a concern that has been around in the cloud for some time now," said Roberto Galoppini, CEO of Business Follows and director of strategy for FileZilla's open source FTP project and software. "I'd suggest that people benchmark Storj from their key areas of business to see how performance is in their real-world environment."

FileZilla is integrating Tardigrade as a cloud storage option with its FTP service. Galoppini said the developers who tend to use the FTP platform are security- and privacy-conscious, so Tardigrade is a good option for them.

Fluree, based in Winston-Salem, N.C., looked to Storj's Tardigrade as an object storage option for backups of its blockchain-backed graph database that developers use to build enterprise applications. Brian Platz, Fluree's co-CEO, said decentralized services such as Tardigrade may be complicated and nascent at this point, but he expects they will be the direction that software heads in the future.

"They can reduce reliance on cloud vendors, while improving data privacy and service levels at a low cost," Platz said.

Tardigrade pricing

Storj charges $10 per terabyte, per month for its cloud object storage, which is based on open source technology, and $45 per terabyte for egress bandwidth.

"We're trying to simplify it as much as possible down to just the two most basic things -- storage and bandwidth," said John Gleeson, VP of operations at Storj. "For developers, all those different fees and all the complexity racks up. It's not just storage but also all of the other fees that go along with it -- the API, transaction costs, multi-region support."

Golub is aware that cloud storage startup Wasabi charges no egress fees, but he said Wasabi competes against AWS Glacier cold storage, whereas Storj is taking on AWS S3 object storage for a different use case.

"We charge for egress to people who are using us to stream and serve data, like video, because that's real costs to our suppliers," Golub said. "They have to pay their [internet service provider] ISP. If you're downloading data from our network, you're causing our providers to have to pay upload. So, we think it's fair. Even with the egress charges, it ends up being significantly more economical than the equivalent from the large providers."

Storj supports QNAP, Synology, Western Digital and FreeNAS storage. Application connectors are available for FileZilla, MongoDB, MariaDB, Pydio, Nextcloud, Zenko, InfluxDB and CPanel, according to Storj.

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