With all the rage surrounding blockchain and decentralized networks, it’s easy to get lost and confused. Blame that on the multiple promises around the lack of a central authority and the potential benefits in privacy and security. However, the technology has yet to prove to work on a wide level for business use while the notion of autonomy is still in question.
In such a context, any business looking to mount a reliable service for multiple users still has its best ally in the distributed network architecture. Its already proven benefits and availability make it the perfect alternative, which is the reason why so many companies still hire developers or outsource to South America to create solutions using such architecture.
So, given how great of an option it still is, let’s see what distributed networks are and why they are a good match for a lot of companies.
What is a distributed network
The most basic of network architectures is a centralized network. In it, there’s a central node (a central server) that controls all the network, manages the traffic, and serves all requests, using subnodes for assistance. A distributed network is a combination of small centralized networks that are interconnected and controlled by a central node but that can work independently from one another in most tasks.
In other words, all those small centralized networks interact with each other while also having the capability of functioning on their own through the governance of their own central node (administrator). However, the central nodes of all those centralized networks converge under the control of a central system.
A distributed network is often taken as a synonym of a decentralized network (such as the ones developed with blockchain). Yet, this isn’t correct. While the administrators of each network that comprise the bigger distributed network all answer to the control of a central system, in a decentralized network the nodes work independently of each other. There’s no central system, as every node in the network plays its own independent part.
The benefits of a distributed network
Though a centralized network can be of use for small services that don’t have much traffic or users, a distributed network feels essential for anyone that deals with moderate to large traffic. That’s mainly because the traffic load can be distributed among the different administrators that can work independently but that can call back to the central system if needed.
In a single server scenario with a centralized architecture, the chances of downtime due to overloading increase with each new user. Besides, a single technical failure can affect the central server and bring the whole network down with it. In comparison, a distributed network is more reliable and efficient. In fact, there are 3 major aspects in which a distributed network is a better option than a centralized network:
- Scalability: any business that launches a service needs to think of how scalable it is right off the bat. That’s because, if the number of users making requests grows, so will the load on the central systems. In the case of a centralized network, an increasing load will slow down the system. Scaling that network up would necessarily mean a hardware upgrade. With distributed networks, scaling is more simple, as new administrators can be added throughout the network to add more processing power.
- Efficiency: in a centralized network, all of the requests are handled by the central server, which has little time and processing power to do anything else. On the contrary, a distributed network “delegates” the requests to the administrators while the central system can do other things, like running analysis or even upgrading the underlying platform. This can be done simultaneously with the requests since the upgrade can later be applied in each administrator when they are free. By doing this, the system doesn’t have to stop working.
- Reliability: the centralized network processes everything with its main server so, if that central node fails or some of its files are corrupted, the system will be unavailable or crash. With a distributed network, technical failures and system corruption are contained in their respective administrators, which means that the rest of the system can work as usual. Basically, this implies that all the “small centralized networks” that make up the larger distributed network work as backups for the rest of their peers, increasing the system’s overall reliability.
There are several tasks that a distributed network can tackle with increased efficiency. From backing up and recovering data and managing inventory to controlling accesses and monitoring devices through a central system, there are several things this architecture can do for a company with many devices and, more importantly, for businesses that have multiple locations. That’s because it offers enough autonomy for everyone to work comfortably while also providing centralization to sync all nodes when needed.
Distributed networks offer several benefits for companies looking for scalable architectures that can run efficiently at all times. That doesn’t mean they don’t have challenges or present issues. The scalability of these systems can get tricky, especially when trying to guarantee the read/write capabilities for all administrators. Though there are techniques that try to overcome this issue (such as multi-master replication strategy and sharding), applying them can increase the overall complexity.
However, the reliability of the whole architecture as well as the efficiency to work with multiple simultaneous users and the ease it provides when controlling the administrators through the central server still make it a great alternative for businesses that can handle the complexity this architecture can ultimately bring.