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Data infrastructure technology: are blockchains the answer?


By James Smith - Theodi.org



How do we make sure data infrastructure is always available, and always trustworthy? Are blockchains the answer?

We believe that data infrastructure is fundamental to our future. What we normally mean by this is “data as infrastructure” – data is becoming part of the infrastructure of society. In ODI Labs, we have a slightly different take on the issue: if data is to be infrastructure for society, what does that mean about the technology underlying the “infrastructure for data”?

If data is becoming essential to society, then it must be:

- resilient – always available when needed, with access able to route around damage. It can’t drop offline because of a datacentre outage, or a forgotten domain renewal.
- robust – data must be verifiable and reliable, resistant to tampering. The concepts of maldata and data spam aren’t in wide circulation yet, but at some point they will be.
- scalable – having vital data hosted on a single server will not scale up when that dataset is suddenly in high demand.

A new class of technologies is appearing that cope with many of these problems. In particular, distributed data storage – where the data doesn’t reside in one place but across the network itself – is on the rise. And a lot of people are talking about one specific implementation of that idea: blockchains.

By the way, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, blockchains are basically a way of storing information (transactions, in the case of Bitcoin) in a distributed fashion across the Internet without needing a trusted central server. This quick primer from the BBC is a good introduction to the idea.

There is a lot of hype about “putting things into the blockchain” at the moment. While the technology is fascinating and has huge potential, there are a few things we need to be aware of.

www.theodi.org


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Thursday, January 7th 2016
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