Centralized vs. Decentralized Data Systems — which is the best?

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Health care and insurance payers almost spend 496 billion dollars Bruce Schneier, director of security architecture at Interrupted – a company created by the father of the modern web, Tim Berners-Lee. As the amount of data continues to grow, it becomes increasingly difficult for healthcare providers to access the information they need when treating patients.

Schneier argues that providers often use centralized means such as the exchange of health care information, but these media present a list of potential problems.

“Centralized systems face the risk of security breaches as well as ethical and security issues,” Schneier told VentureBeat. “Decentralized data systems can give healthcare providers better access to critical data and information and allow citizens to control what data is being shared. and which supplier. For example, a person can have their own data profile and provide their doctor with access to relevant information needed for their appointment, resulting in better care. “

The question of whether to use centralized or decentralized data in healthcare is just one example in the industry. To help CIOs – regardless of industry – better understand the benefits and shortcomings of each approach, VentureBeat asked Schneier to detail the pros and cons. A slightly edited version of the conversation is as follows:


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VentureBeat: Please describe in as much detail as possible what you consider a key factor in each of the following scenarios:

Advantages of centralized data

Bruce Schneier: Concentration can have many different meanings, depending on the context. When we at Inrupt talk about centralized data architecture, we mean online applications or services that are tightly coupled to their databases. That’s how most things are built today. All data from all users of the application or service is stored in virtually the same place, if not practically. The benefit is that it’s easier for manufacturers and service operators to optimize its performance.

Disadvantages of centralized data

Schneier: You can think about this on many levels. Within an organization, when services are tightly coupled to their database, it leads to data repositories. Every large organization interacts with its users through a variety of channels or online applications. But with centralized architectures, it becomes very difficult to share data between systems. It’s hard to reuse the same piece of data for multiple purposes. Integration creates complexity and risk of insecurity. So user data will eventually decompose in the vaults, frustrating users and holding back the organization.

At a higher level, centralization leads to monopoly. An individual, group of people, or a company holds power over the functioning of a centralized data system, making it vulnerable to risk. There is also a lack of privacy, as some centralized data systems share user data with third parties. Centralized data systems are also a big target for hackers, making them more vulnerable to breaches and data theft.

Advantages of Decentralized Data

Schneier: The important change is not about where data lives, but about separating applications and data. This has many benefits. Within an organization, systems can naturally interact with each other. Data can be reused for new purposes without being copied elsewhere, and all data about the user can be organized around the user, instead of being bound to the application it came from first. When this type of reorganization is done in partnership with users, it improves both trust and customer experience.

At a higher level, distributed data puts people in control of their own data. Your data is distributed in the sense that no single organization has control over it, but in a way it is also “centralized” around you. You can share it or not, with anyone you want.

So often when we are online, we enter the same data over and over again on different websites, often forgetting who is sharing our data in the process. In addition to being a more private and secure model, the interoperability of Solid, an Inrupt technology, brings systems to life. New ideas come from linking things together, but we can’t link our data from different parts of our lives together today because it’s stuck in centralized systems.

Disadvantages of centralized data

Schneier: Companies that manage data sets exclusively for internal purposes that do not contain users’ personal information may not see the benefits of a distributed data system like Solid.

VB: What are the top challenges for data management in a centralized system compared to a decentralized one?

Schneier: Beyond the challenges [in] Complying with privacy regulations, centralized data systems create high-value attack targets – such as a database of 10 million credit card numbers – luring hackers with lots of resources. User-centric distributed data radically changes the motives of hackers and thus makes breach threats more manageable for most organizations that are not part of their core business. network security.

VB: Which route does your company usually advise customers to take, and under what circumstances?

Schneier: Inrupt’s business is built on Solid’s distributed data approach. Our approach at Inrupt is to help companies and governments see the benefits of storing their user data in a ‘pod’ – i.e. a single user-centric data store. core. The key differentiating factors here are interoperability, data quality, and compliance at scale.

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