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Storj Labs advances decentralized cloud storage platform

Much like Uber doesn't own its own cars, Storj Labs relies on a network of storage node operators to power its decentralized cloud storage platform.

Open source cloud storage startup Storj Labs is set to bring its vision of decentralized cloud storage to enterprise users.

The Storj Labs Tardigrade service uses blockchain technology and a distributed network of storage nodes, provided by people or organizations that are paid for providing storage capacity. The initial versions of the Storj Labs decentralized cloud storage platform were not focused on providing the controls and guarantees needed for commercial use, but that is changing with version 3 of the Storj Labs platform and the Tardigrade platform, which became available in beta on Aug. 22.

The potential for Tardigrade has already attracted some early users, including Codec Market, a company formed in 2019 as a video transcoding platform for user-generated content sites, which are extremely demanding of storage and compute resources. Codec Market is testing Storj for mezzanine file storage for customers dealing with tens of thousands of video uploads every day.

Among those that are currently evaluating the Storj Labs Tardigrade platform is a new startup called Codec Market that is being formed by DVLabs, based in Vienna, Va., which is looking at the new V3 network for integrated storage for video compression, as an alternative to traditional cloud and on-premises data storage.

Codec Market was formed in 2019 and expects to have a public launch in 2020 as a video transcoding platform for user-generated content sites, which are demanding of storage and compute resources. Codec Market is testing Storj for mezzanine file storage for customers dealing with tens of thousands of video uploads every day.

"Over time we think Storj has a shot at providing more storage at a lower cost than cloud providers, because they have fundamentally different economics," said Daniel Summer, founder of Codec Market.

Storj is to S3 what Uber is to Yellow Cab. You can usually get an Uber faster than a Yellow Cab because Uber has more cars available, which were already paid for by the drivers
Daniel SummerFounder, Codec Market

Summer used an analogy comparing Storj's decentralized cloud storage technology with AWS' S3 system and likening that to Uber's relationship to traditional taxi service.

"Storj is to S3 what Uber is to Yellow Cab. You can usually get an Uber faster than a Yellow Cab because Uber has more cars available, which were already paid for by the drivers," he said.

To help enable transactions across the Tardigrade network, Storj Labs uses Ethereum- based blockchain technology and a token system to pay those who provide storage capacity to the network. In Summer's view, Storj Labs is one of only a few tech vendors employing blockchain technology correctly.

"To pull off Storj's crowdsourcing model, a global, efficient, secure, software-defined micropayment system is a requirement," Summer said. "In my opinion, the Ethereum blockchain, as used by Storj, is uniquely positioned to meet these requirements."

Screenshot of Storj storage node operator dashboard
Storj storage node operator dashboard

How it works

Rather than having its own pool of provisioned storage resources, Storj has built a network in which anyone can contribute their storage resources to be used and then are paid in blockchain-based tokens based on usage. Originally Storj called its community of storage contributors "farmers," but with the v3 update of the decentralized cloud storage technology, they are now referred to as storage node operators.

"When you join the network, we push a small amount of test data to you, but you basically have to prove yourself over the course of a month and that includes uptime performance," said Ben Golub, executive chairman and interim CEO of Storj. "We do random cryptographic audits and make sure that you have what you say you have."

For those who pass the qualification, the storage node operators are compensated with STORJ tokens, which are based on Ethereum.

Customers pay in dollars, while storage node operators are paid in STORJ tokens. Some 11 cryptocurrency exchanges will convert the tokens into dollars, according to Storj.

The v3 Tardigrade network

The new beta for the decentralized cloud storage network is an evolution of Storj technology that has been on the market since February 2017. Golub said the company essentially rebuilt its network for the v3 Tardigrade platform, building on the lessons it had learned over the past two and a half years.

"The v2 network could get us to 250 petabytes, but it wouldn't get us to exabytes and it wouldn't deliver the kind of performance and economics that enterprises need," Golub said.

With the new version of the decentralized cloud storage network, Storj has also added compatibility with AWS' S3 storage service. The platform now uses erasure coding to help improve overall reliability and stability. In the earlier version of the platform, data would be uploaded and encrypted, with eight copies made and distributed across the network.

"Now what we do is we upload it and we divide each file into 80 pieces using erasure coding, of which any 30 can reconstitute the file," Golub said. "Each of the 80 pieces goes to a different node, but if you want to retrieve your file, we just take it from whichever 30 are available and good."

With the v3 decentralized cloud storage network, Storj will be testing and improving the technology in the coming months as it moves toward general availability. Golub said that most who are starting with Storj are working with lower value data for archival needs.

"We have plenty of people who are wanting to test this out for everything from S3 replacement to even CDN [content delivery network] type use cases, because we're so close to the edge," Golub said. "The only thing we're not really good at is small files that are write-intensive, so you wouldn't run a live database on us, but you would absolutely store your backup and your snapshots on us."

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