Decentralized vs distributed systems: What's the difference?
January 16, 2023

Decentralized vs distributed systems: What's the difference?

OK, so you might’ve noticed the word ‘distributed’ on our website. You’re probably thinking, ‘Wait a minute, does that mean Hive is a decentralized cloud?’.

Well, here’s the thing. The terms ‘decentralized’ and ‘distributed’ are often used interchangeably, but it’s not a case of potay-to, potah-to. The two words are two separate concepts. We’re going to talk about how they’re different, their pros and cons, and the benefits of a distributed cloud.

Deep breath. Let’s jump into it, hive mind!

Decentralized systems: power to the many, not the few

Web2 is dominated by Big Tech. You know who they are. The Googles, the Metas, the Apples. They exert full control over the functionality of their services, and over users’ data. These are what we call centralized systems. Now, take that central owner out of the system. What do you get? A decentralized system. It’s a system in which there is no central authority or centralized component that has control over the entire system. Instead, control is distributed amongst the various components of the system.

TL;DR: centralized systems have one, let’s say, overlord. Decentralized systems offer power to the many, not just the few.

Distributed systems: buzz off, centralization

A distributed system consists of components that are physically separated. They communicate with each other over a network. This allows for resources to be shared and workloads to be distributed across multiple machines, often improving efficiency and performance. But a distributed system may still have a central authority that coordinates and controls the various components.

TL;DR: by harnessing the power of many separate components, distributed systems can enable resource sharing and improve efficiency and performance. These systems can function with or without a central authority.

Distributed v decentralized: choose your fighter

So…what are the differences between the two systems? In a decentralized system, control is distributed amongst the components of the system, while in a distributed system, the components are physically separated and they communicate over a network. Both types of systems can be used to enable the sharing of resources and workloads. Where they differ is in the way that control is managed within the system.

Like with anything else, there are upsides and downsides to both. And like with anything else, maybe a pros and cons list might help you better understand the decentralized versus distributed debate.

It's also important to understand that potential drawbacks are not unique to decentralized systems. Centralized systems can also have issues with complexity, lack of transparency, and scalability, among other things. Ultimately, the choice between a decentralized and a centralized system will depend on the specific needs and goals of an organization or application.

The natural evolution of systems

If recent history is anything to go by, technology evolves and makes things better. While centralized systems enabled the first networks to grow, the thinking behind them evolved, giving way to decentralized systems. And then, by distributing resources and rights across whole networks, distributed systems are proving to be tolerant to faults, more secure, and more transparent. As the clamor for distributed systems grows, their deployment and maintenance costs will plummet. We may be biased here, but we believe distributed systems are the future 😉.

The future, distributed by Hive

Now that you know the difference between the two Ds, we can tell you that Hive is a distributed storage system. It’s hosted on everyone’s computer. Hive also relies on a decentralized data exchange layer. So a Hiver will always be able to retrieve their data directly from peers, without interacting with a central authority. But much like ‘permissioned blockchains’, some of our advanced services will rely on Hive’s control layer.

Wait, you’ve got more questions?

FAQs: Take 5 with Hive

What are some examples of centralized, decentralized and distributed systems?

OK, Dropbox and Google Drive are two examples of centralized systems.

One example of a decentralized system is a peer-to-peer network, like the one used by BitTorrent. In a peer-to-peer network, there is no central server that controls the flow of information. Instead, every participant in the network acts as both a client and a server, sharing resources and workloads with other participants.

An example of a distributed system is a cluster of computers that are used to perform a specific task, such as rendering a 3D animation. In this case, the computers in the cluster are connected to a central server that coordinates their efforts and distributes the workload among them.

How is Hive a peer-to-peer platform?

Good question. Hive splits your stored files into shards of data spread across its P2P network. Additional shards are created to account for peers disappearing from Hive or content being destroyed by hardware failures. For example, let’s assume 100 encrypted shards are generated from your file and sent to 100 peers. These are generated in such a way that only 70 are needed to rebuild the original file. Missing shards are regenerated as soon as we discover peers leaving. With only 30% overhead, the probability of not being able to access the content is then several orders of magnitude lower compared to the simple replication strategy. You can read more about this here.

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