In October 2021, a server system at Facebook went down, causing more than 3.5 billion people to lose access to one of the world’s most powerful and ubiquitous data storage, communication, and information-sharing platforms. This incident highlights the dangers of trusting large, centralized entities to house our online data and digital lives.
Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp all went down, and reappeared online after a six-hour global outage. Image credit — Cyber Warriors
Decentralized computing, as opposed to traditional centralized systems, puts the power back in the hands of individual citizens. In centralized systems like Facebook, all data uploaded and transferred must pass through one of the company’s data centers, making it a single source of potential failure if something goes wrong or a hacker enters the system. In decentralized computing networks, control is spread across a network of hundreds or thousands of participants, each of whom contributes processing capacity to the system. This means that if one participant is compromised, other participants can react to fill in the gaps left by the compromised node.
Decentralized computing bolsters digital security. Breaches of large centralized entities like Equifax or Marriott’s guest database have highlighted the growing scale and sophistication of cyberattacks, exposing the private information of millions of people. With decentralized protocols, hackers would have to find and breach an entire network of secure servers, a complex task that is unlikely to happen.
Image credit — AbacusNext
Decentralized computing also offers greater privacy and freedom of expression online. With centralized systems, a single entity can exercise control over the internet and its users, leading to censorship and surveillance.
In 2018, Google again cooperated with certain national authorities to run a censored version of its search engine. According to a recent Associated Press poll, 9 out of 10 Americans are concerned about their digital privacy. These days, practically everything about our lives is stored or tracked online. This includes important information like health records, Social Security information, and vital financial records. Governments in Russia, the Middle East, and elsewhere had had enough — they wanted the Internet to be brought under the control of nation-states.
Photo Illustration by Kelly Caminero/The Daily Beast
Decentralized computing, on the other hand, allows for distributed control and decision-making, which helps to ensure that no single entity can exercise complete control over the internet or its users. This allows for greater online privacy and freedom of expression as users are less likely to be monitored or censored.
Another key advantage of decentralized computing is that they are often more efficient and cost-effective. It is reported that by 2030, we will be producing yottabytes of data every year. The amount of general computing power in use will increase tenfold, and AI computing power will increase by a factor of 500.
Data source: Intel, IDC
Cloud computing requires massive capital expenditure and operational headaches. With centralized systems, the cost of maintaining and operating the system is usually borne by a single entity, which is a non-trivial challenge to meet the increasing demand for computational power and scale a hardware network to viability.
Data source: IDC, Statista
Decentralized systems, on the other hand, spread the costs and responsibilities across multiple entities, which can make them more affordable and sustainable in the long term.
Finally, decentralized computing provides more options to users and gives them more control over their data. In a centralized system, users are dependent on the companies that store their data and have little control over how it is used.
In January 2023, Blizzard suspended their gaming services in China, leaving millions of gamers behind with their assets. This could happen to any game run by a centralized authority on a centralized cloud.
Image credit — Bellular News
Decentralized computing brings solutions and is changing how games work to prevent users from such threats:
1- Open source games published via blockchain, giving full transparency;
2- Code physically run and distributed through random miners that can not be manipulated by a single person or authority;
3- The game can not be modified or stopped unless approved by the community/DAO.
In conclusion, decentralized computing offers a solution to the risks of centralized control and decision-making and is more robust, resilient, efficient, and cost-effective than centralized systems. Imagine two visions of the future of our online lives: rely increasingly on the power of a handful of over-powerful, centralized companies or embrace the democratizing power of decentralized computing and put power back in the hands of individual citizens. It is a choice we have not had before and one that more and more internet denizens are choosing for themselves.