Max Alexander, Co-founder at Ditto, explores the potential for peer-to-peer sync to allow data sharing without reliance on the cloud.

Applications for enterprises are built to be cloud-dependent. This is great for data storage capabilities and accessing limitless compute. However, when cloud connection is poor or shuts down, these apps stop working, and so this has a significant impact on revenue and service, or could even lead to life threatening situations. 

A number of different industry sectors rely on Wi-Fi and connectivity. From ecommerce, fast food retail, healthcare and airlines, they all have deskless staff who need digital tools accessible on smartphones, tablets and other devices to do their jobs. So, if the cloud is not accessible, due to outages, these businesses must consider alternatives and how they can operate reliably without the cloud.  

What organisations can do is build applications with a local-first architecture, to ensure that they can remain functional even when disconnected from the internet. So, why don’t all apps work this way? 

Simply, building cloud-only applications is much easier as ready-made tools for developers help quicken the pace of a lot of the backend building process. Further, local-first architecture solves the issue of offline data accessibility but does not resolve the issue of offline data synchronisation. As apps become disconnected from the internet, devices can no longer share data between one another. 

This is where peer-to-peer data sync and mesh networking come into the forefront.  

How can you implement peer-to-peer data sync into business processes? 

The real world application of peer-to-peer data sync has the following characteristics:  

  • Apps must be able to locally sync data. Instead of sending data to a remote server, applications must write data using its local database in the first instance. Then the applications can listen for changes from other devices, and sync as needed. To do this, apps use local transports such as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Peer-to-Peer WiFi (P2P Wi-Fi) to communicate data changes if the internet, cloud or local server is down. 
  • Devices should create real-time mesh networks. Devices which are in close proximity should be able to discover, communicate, and maintain constant contact with other devices in areas of limited or no connectivity. 
  • Easily and effortlessly transition from online to offline and vice versa. Using both local sync and mesh networking means that devices in the same mesh are constantly updating a local version of the database and syncing those changes with the cloud when it is available. 
  • Partitioned between large peer and small peer mesh networks so as to not overwhelm smaller networks. Due to the partitioned networks, smaller devices will only need to only sync the data that it requests, so developers have complete control over bandwidth usage and storage. Compared to larger networks where they can sync as much data as they can.
  • Ad-hoc to allow devices to join and leave the mesh when they need to. This means that there can be no central server that other devices are relying on.
  • Ensures compatibility with all data at any time. Every device should account for incoming data with different schemas. So, if a device is offline and running an outdated version of an app, for example, it still must be able to read new data and sync.  

Putting peer-to-peer sync and mesh networking in practice

Looking at a point-of-sale application in the fast-paced environment of a quick-service restaurant, for example, when an order is taken at a kiosk or counter, that data must travel hundreds of miles to a data centre just to arrive at a device in the same building. This is an inefficient process and can slow down or even stop operations, especially if there is an internet outage or any issues with the cloud.

Already, a major fast-food restaurant in the US has modernised their point of sale system using new architecture and has created one that can move order data between store devices independently of an internet connection. This system is much more resilient in the face of outages, and this makes sure that employees can always deliver best-in-class service, regardless of internet connectivity.

The strong power of cloud-optional computing is highlighted in healthcare situations, especially in rural areas in developing countries. Through using both mesh networking and peer-to-peer data sync, essential healthcare applications can share critical information without the need for an internet or connectivity to the cloud. As such, healthcare workers in disconnected environments can now quickly process information and share it with relevant colleagues, leading to much faster reaction times that can save lives. 

Even though the shift from cloud-only to cloud-optional is subtle and will not be seen by end users, it is an essential shift. This move creates a number of business opportunities where customers experience better services, improved efficiencies, and business revenue can increase.

  • Digital Strategy
  • Infrastructure & Cloud

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