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Pushing the
Frontiers of   Decentralization

Takeaways

  • Decentralization is egalitarian, collaborative and fast
  • As we build, new paradigms emerge
  • The future of security is in small unit defense
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Decentralized Innovation: Egalitarian, Collaborative and Fast

Throughout history, from Henry Ford’s assembly line to the decentralization of information exchange across the internet, the decomposition of complex processes into smaller, simpler ones has yielded incredible gains.

However, most companies today retain some semblance of a hierarchical structure, where decisions are made through layered, command-and-control mechanisms. And while this organizational model and way of building have been the standard for decades, it’s not going to work in the future.

Tomorrow’s value creation will be driven by a new builder model that is increasingly decentralized.

Successful companies are innovating by insourcing ideas, harvesting code from open-source repositories, engaging with startups and giving employees the freedom to come up with ideas wherever they may sprout.

In line with the dismantling of command-and-control organizational structures, we see the decentralization of product development accelerating as companies move aggressively to drive new levels of efficiency and new value by taking advantage of two trends:

  • The LEGO-ization of product components into ever smaller units of software and hardware
  • A hard shift towards the use of decentralization technologies like blockchain
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Decentralized Architecture: As We Build, New Paradigms Emerge

In a decentralized world, product architectures will be characterized by the composition of smaller blocks of value and services to solve hard problems and make it easier than ever to innovate. For example, Amazon recently demonstrated just how easy it is to create computer-vision applications using its DeepLens camera as an edge-compute platform. Here, learned models can be directly deployed right on a consumer’s camera with the computational heavy lifting being performed by Amazon Web Services. This is a far cry from monolithic application architectures, where everything is mostly in one place, either on a camera or smartphone, in a datacenter or in the cloud.

Every company’s R&D organization needs to take a cue from Amazon, where a product’s parts become reusable and interchangeable. This means the building blocks are consumable through application programming interfaces and maneuverable between the cloud and the edge, depending on where they are needed.

This new builder models favors three principles:

  • Autonomy
  • Resilience
  • Resource Optimization

Decentralized Defense: The Future of Security is in Small Unit Defense

Today, infrastructure itself is code and software is delivered as a continuous stream. The product itself is built as a collection of component parts, leveraging open-source software and spread all over the place. Developers are embracing Amazon Web Services Lambda and Microsoft Functions, which are essentially switches that can be turned on or off in a fraction of a second.

Such a fundamental shift in product design and architecture warrants a meaningful review of the security risks. In the case of serverless functions, any error in the code equals a disproportionate degree of damage because of interdependencies.

Companies need to rethink their security strategies to accommodate the nuances of transient code, discrete functions, smart contracts and virtual network functions.

In a monolithic product or application, the security controls can be “good enough” at each layer of a defense in depth model. Now exceptional security is needed in the latest technology stack (containers, serverless functions, smart contracts) to avoid damage spreading laterally very quickly.

As product architectures become more decentralized, so must defense systems. An approach that we call “small unit defense” has several core principles that will help answer these questions and create stronger defenses for our new ways of working.

The elements of small unit defense include:

  • Edge Autonomy
  • Open Provenance
  • Distributed Defense
  • Crowd-Sourced Intelligence
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Figure 4: The shift to small unit defenses.

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