Originally conceived in October 2013 by founder and project leader David Vorick, the decentralized cloud storage program Sia received some backing from a crowdfund in early 2014. The network was launched for private beta testing around twelve months ago, for developers and those who weren't afraid to use the command line interface.
Late last night Sia left beta testing. The development team released a public-ready “homebase” 1.0 program, the first version to have a full Graphical User Interface (GUI). Anyone can now download the single application and start trading encrypted, distributed disk space with other Sia users.
Users can assume three different roles within the network. Users, as with traditional platforms such as dropbox, can pay to store their files. Hosts act like dropbox itself, they store files from other users in exchange for the platforms integral cryptocurrency, Siacoins.
Both Users and hosts use the same homebase program released last night. Every stored file is chopped up into little pieces, highly encrypted, and spread efficiently between many users, who can't see what they're hosting.
The third role is Miners, which have their own mining application and act much like Bitcoin miners. Their job is to secure the Proof-of-Work based Siacoin blockchain, in exchange for block rewards paid in Siacoins, which they can sell or use to buy storage space on the network.
“Sia uses a cryptocurrency, Siacoin, to enable decentralized payments. Siacoin can be thought of as an extension to Bitcoin that adds support for file contracts. Like Bitcoin, Siacoin uses a blockchain, and is powered by ‘proof-of-work’ mining. However, Siacoin and Bitcoin are not in direct competition. Bitcoin is a general-purpose currency, while Siacoin exists only to enable the Sia network.”
Siacoin also allows for much better support for micropayments than Bitcoin, with its' relatively high fees and full blocks. “Sia creates a large volume of very small transactions,” the website explains, “which traditional payment processors are not designed to handle.”
While the new GUI client application looks simple and smooth, first impressions may turn a few users away. When first opening up the new homebase client, users have to wait for the Sia blockchain to download, which can already take a few hours.
Once complete, users can then create a Sia wallet, which has a long seed-word backup phrase, and stores the siacoins used by the platform.
“The siacoin wallet is baked into the host and user clients, only so far, but standalone wallets will eventually come about. Wallet users are Anonymous and permissionless - Sia does not require any personal information for use of any of its services.”
Application developers can also use Sia's API, to directly access the open source Siacoin blockchain, allowing Sia storage to be purchased and used inside third-party applications. This allows for anonymous, decentralized applications that store their data in an anonymous, decentralized network to be built.
“The promise of Sia is a decentralized network of datacenters that, taken together, comprise the world's fastest, cheapest, and most secure cloud storage platform,” states the team. “Today, being a major cloud storage player requires having datacenters, building trust within the market, reaching customers, and competing with giants such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft.”
The current cost for using the platform to store data is set by a free market of users and hosts, with lots of well-wishing beta testers and privacy advocates already on board. While Dropbox costs around $12 per terabyte (TB) per month, the most expensive of the beta testers on the Sia forum plans to sell their drive space for around $8 per TB per month.
“As of January 2016, storage is about $2.25/TB/month with 6x redundancy.”
The free and open source program employs smart contracts, enabled by the custom blockchain. The smart contracts enable each host and renter to make agreements about what to do with an uploaded file, at what price, and for how long.
“The host agrees to store a file for some duration of time, and then gets paid some money for doing so,” Sia explains on their website. “The renter pays all of the coins up front, and the blockchain acts as escrow. If the host keeps the file and submits a proof of storage at the end, the host will get the payment. Otherwise, (depending on the terms of the contract), the payment is returned to the uploader.”
The smart contract ensures a standard 95% uptime, making downtime and inaccessible data very unlikely. Users pay for disk space once, and funds are returned if performance is too poor.
“You can take a 50 MB file, break it into 200 pieces that are 1 MB each, and then you can recover the original file from *any* 50 of the pieces. This method has the same overhead as creating 4 complete copies of the file, yet is much more reliable because it's much less likely that 151 out of 200 hosts will go offline than it is that 4 out of 4 hosts will go offline.”
Although Sia is an open source program, there is a company behind it that earns a tiny fee from each contract. “Nebulous (the parent company of Sia) makes money every time someone uses the Sia blockchain to negotiate a file contract,” Sia's founder explained in a recent interview. “We make money if people use our network for storage. That’s our primary source of revenue, which means our entire existence depends on getting people to use the platform.”
Sia's closest competitor is Storj, which is currently in beta testing. Although the Storj Driveshare program was the first decentralized storage host with a GUI for renting out hard disk space, the process for being a consumer of that space still requires some command-line use. The Storj platform also differs in the omission of smart contracts.
Another function of the platform, allowing it to compete with the platforms like Mega, is the ability to share data. “Files can be shared publically and privately,” said Sia on their website. “By sharing the siafile associated with a file that’s been uploaded to Sia, you give someone the ability to download that file. To share files privately, you can give the siafiles to people you trust. They will be able to download the file, and as long as they don’t share it, nobody else will. You can share files publicly by putting the associated siafiles in a public place.”
For more differences between Sia, Storj, and other decentralized storage systems, the Sia forum has an insightful conversation between the Sia and Storj developers.