Even its biggest fans don’t think all decentralisation will be quick or painless, and yet…
Nobody, not even the most committed decentralisation enthusiast, underrates the daunting challenges, whether related to security, scalability, or sustainability, that confront the rapid widespread adoption of today’s emerging decentralisation options.
But decentralisation’s detractors will now also be taken to task
Equally, even its most vocal sceptics and critics can’t simply dismiss the understandable concern that current centralised infrastructure is about to be tested and is very likely to be found wanting. The consequences of this going wrong will be as devastating as the health-based perils that will test it.
Critical infrastructure can now be expected to become priority one
As a consequence, those responsible for it will be expected to explore all options for mitigating any centralisation-related vulnerabilities which threaten to catastrophically undermine vital services.
Decentralisation turns out to be something that we all already use
Whatever scepticism we may have regarding the latest decentralisation ideas, nobody is claiming that the arguments for decentralisation which produced the Internet were misguided or unrealistic.
The Internet itself shows that decentralisation can work
Its success as a ‘network of independent telecoms networks’ all sharing the same communications protocol to provide fail-safe resilience to critical communications in the event of overwhelming disruption turns out to be proof that decentralisation can work and work well.
The Internet has decentralised telecoms, but not the services which use telecoms
We’re looking at new decentralisation options now simply because despite the success of the Internet as a telecommunications technology, the crucial services it provides are not safeguarded by the same kind of fail-safe resilience which characterised the original Internet design.
Today’s online services run on the Internet, but they aren’t decentralised
Essential services running on the Internet almost all turn out to be highly centralised, with all the vulnerabilities to disruption this reality entails. It’s these vulnerabilities that are about to be tested.
Online services depend upon much more than just the telecoms network
Yes, the Internet itself can be seen as a genuinely decentralised collection of wires and boxes (routers) sending messages down the wires. It delivers all our online services using those messages.
Centralisation has crept in by the back door
However, ultimately such services are delivered by servers connected to those boxes. The ways we’ve designed the software on those servers has produced almost universal ‘centralisation by the back door’ (and in most cases quite unashamedly by the front door) throughout our critical infrastructure, resulting in unintentional but fundamental shortfalls in overall resilience.
Have we somehow forgotten why the Internet has a decentralised design?
All centralised solutions inevitably create ‘single points of failure’. Decentralised options open up the possibility of eliminating, or at the very least, of significantly mitigating such vulnerabilities.
Some of us are waking up to this right now
Nobody is under any illusion that even today’s most conscientious decentralisation efforts necessarily guarantee to eliminate any possibility of centralisation.
But now, at the very least, by adopting decentralisation as a defining feature of software design (in the same way that decentralisation constituted a defining feature of the Internet’s pioneering vision) it now looks like alternatives to the perils of centralised IT will finally be getting the attention they deserve.
Suddenly, decentralisation doesn’t look like a low priority anymore
There is no doubt that unless we treat the inherent centralisation-related vulnerabilities produced by traditional software design as an existential challenge to our critical infrastructure, we will be failing in our responsibility to address a clear and present danger.
Decentralisation advocates: no longer just a bunch of unrealistic dreamers
Until now, few will have blamed centralisation for large scale IT disasters, but it may turn out that this may simply be due to the limited scale of the human cost experienced so far. These limits could now be breached. In other words, the hour of prioritising decentralisation may now be upon us.