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IB DP Computer Science Study Notes

C.3.2 Hardware and Decentralisation in Distributed Networks

In the realm of distributed networks, an intricate tapestry of hardware forms the backbone that enables a decentralised web. This detailed exposition will explore the various hardware components utilised in distributed networks and how technological advancements have been instrumental in propelling the growth and decentralisation of the web.


Distributed networks represent a paradigm shift in computing and communication. They rely on a variety of hardware, from traditional servers to cutting-edge IoT devices, creating a robust and scalable web infrastructure. This shift has profound social, technical, and geopolitical implications, fostering a more decentralised and accessible digital landscape.

Traditional Servers in Distributed Computing

Traditional servers have long been integral to the fabric of network computing. Their evolution has mirrored the shift from centralised data centres to distributed computing environments.

The Evolutionary Path of Servers

  • Centralised to Distributed: Initially, servers were centralised powerhouses. The advent of distributed computing saw these evolve into more dispersed systems, improving data redundancy and availability.
  • Server Types and Functions:
    • Application Servers: Handle all application operations between users and an organization's backend business applications or databases.
    • Web Servers: Serve web pages to users as requested, playing a critical role in content delivery over the Internet.
    • Database Servers: Provide database services to other computer programs or computers.

Advancements in Server Technology

  • Virtualisation: This technology allows for multiple virtual servers to run on a single physical server, optimising resource utilisation and reducing costs.
  • Cloud Computing: Cloud servers offer on-demand computing resources, providing scalability and flexibility previously unattainable.

Mobile Devices and Their Expanding Role

Mobile devices are no longer mere communication tools; they are potent computing devices that extend the edge of the network.

The Surge of Mobile Computing

  • Proliferation of Devices: The exponential growth in mobile device usage has dramatically expanded the scope of distributed networks.
  • Mobile Connectivity: With the advancement of wireless technologies like 5G, mobile devices have become critical nodes in distributed networks, capable of both consuming and providing services.

The Role of Mobile Devices in Distributed Networks

  • User-Centric Services: Mobile devices facilitate a range of services that are centred around the user’s convenience and mobility.
  • Edge Computing: The decentralisation trend is furthered by edge computing, where mobile devices process data at the edge of the network, reducing latency and bandwidth use.

IoT Devices: The New Frontier

IoT devices are reshaping the landscape of distributed computing by adding myriad nodes to the network.

Defining the Internet of Things

  • Broad Range of Devices: IoT encompasses a vast array of devices such as sensors, wearables, smart appliances, and vehicles.
  • Connectivity and Integration: These devices are connected to the Internet, allowing them to collect and exchange data with minimal human intervention.

IoT's Role in Distributed Networks

  • Data Generation and Communication: IoT devices are often the sources of big data, capturing real-time information from their environments.
  • Automation and Efficiency: By automating tasks and improving efficiencies, IoT devices contribute significantly to the operational capabilities of distributed networks.

The Impact of Technological Advancements

Technological advancements have been the main driver of growth in distributed systems, enabling networks to become more complex and powerful.

Innovations in Hardware

  • Processor Speed and Efficiency: Advances in semiconductor technology have led to faster and more energy-efficient processors.
  • Storage Solutions: The development of solid-state drives (SSD) and scalable storage technologies have enhanced data storage capabilities within distributed networks.

Miniaturisation of Hardware

  • Compact and Powerful: The reduction in size of hardware components has enabled the creation of smaller, yet more powerful devices that can be integrated into a network.
  • Wearable Technology: Miniaturisation has given rise to wearable tech, which can collect data and interact with other network nodes, enhancing the distributed network's reach.

Decentralisation of the Web

The decentralisation of the web is a transformative trend with far-reaching consequences across various spheres.

Social Implications

  • Digital Inclusion: Decentralised networks can improve global access to information, fostering greater digital inclusion.
  • Data Ownership: Decentralisation may empower users with greater ownership and control over their data, potentially enhancing privacy and security.

Technical Implications

  • Distributed Data Storage: Data is stored across multiple nodes, enhancing security and data retrieval speeds.
  • Improved Network Resilience: Decentralised networks are less prone to systemic failures as they lack a single point of failure.

Geopolitical Implications

  • Data Governance: Decentralisation could alter the dynamics of data governance, with data being stored and processed in multiple countries.
  • Cybersecurity: A decentralised web necessitates robust cybersecurity measures as the attack surface is significantly broader.

Critical Analysis: The Road to Decentralisation

The trajectory towards a decentralised web is fraught with challenges that necessitate careful consideration and strategic planning.

Technical Challenges

  • Data Consistency: Ensuring data consistency across a distributed network is complex and requires sophisticated synchronisation protocols.
  • Security Concerns: Decentralisation introduces unique security challenges, including the need for secure data transmission and the protection against distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.

Social Considerations

  • Workforce Transformation: The shift to decentralised networks will transform job markets, necessitating new skills and roles.
  • Digital Literacy: As the web becomes more decentralised, digital literacy will become an even more essential competency for participation in the digital economy.

Geopolitical Dynamics

  • International Collaboration: Decentralisation may foster new forms of international cooperation in managing the distributed web.
  • Regulatory Complexity: With data distributed globally, regulatory compliance becomes increasingly complex, posing challenges for both organisations and regulators.

In conclusion, the hardware that drives distributed networks is varied and evolving, encompassing everything from traditional servers to the latest IoT devices. These advancements in technology not only propel the growth of distributed systems but also pave the way towards a more decentralised web. Such a shift has profound social, technical, and geopolitical implications that IB Computer Science students must understand and critically examine to fully grasp the nuances of distributed computing and its impact on the future of the web.


Data compression plays a pivotal role in the efficiency of decentralised web systems by reducing the size of data that needs to be transmitted across the network. In distributed networks, particularly those that are decentralised, data often needs to be sent between various nodes that may not always have high bandwidth connections. Compression techniques, both lossless and lossy, can significantly decrease the amount of data being transferred, thus reducing transmission times and bandwidth costs. Moreover, efficient compression algorithms can help in maintaining faster data exchanges, which is crucial for the performance of real-time applications within decentralised systems.

Decentralisation significantly impacts the scalability of distributed networks by allowing them to grow and adapt without the need for central oversight or control. In a decentralised network, new nodes can be added with relative ease, which means that the network can expand to accommodate increasing amounts of data and processing demands. This contrasts with centralised systems, where scaling up often involves significant investments in infrastructure and overhauling existing systems. The modular nature of decentralised networks means they can be scaled horizontally, adding more nodes as needed, which is a more cost-effective and flexible approach to scalability.

Decentralisation could profoundly affect the user experience on the web by improving data access speeds, enhancing privacy, and potentially offering more personalised content. Since decentralised networks store and process data across multiple nodes, users can often retrieve information from a node closer to their location, decreasing latency. Furthermore, a decentralised approach provides users with greater control over their data, potentially increasing privacy and security due to the lack of a centralised data store. However, the user experience may also face challenges, such as the need for more robust authentication methods to secure access to distributed services and ensuring a consistent experience across various nodes.

The decentralisation of hardware in distributed networks introduces several risks, including security vulnerabilities and the management of a more complex network topology. As the number of devices increases, so does the attack surface for potential cyber threats, making it more challenging to ensure consistent security protocols across all nodes. Additionally, decentralisation can complicate network management and data integrity, as there is a need for robust synchronisation mechanisms to ensure that all nodes have the most current and consistent data. These risks require sophisticated strategies and technologies to mitigate, ensuring the reliability and safety of distributed networks.

Advancements in IoT devices have propelled the decentralisation of the web by integrating countless new nodes into the network, each capable of generating and processing data. Modern IoT devices, equipped with enhanced computational abilities and connectivity, contribute to a distributed network's data pool, facilitating complex tasks such as real-time analytics and decision-making at the edge of the network. This reduces the dependency on centralised data centres and disperses data processing capabilities geographically, which aligns with the principles of a decentralised web—promoting efficiency, privacy, and a more evenly distributed network load.

Practice Questions

Discuss the role of mobile devices in the decentralisation of the web and how they contribute to the functionality of distributed networks.

Mobile devices significantly contribute to the decentralisation of the web by serving as nodes that are capable of processing and exchanging data. Their ubiquitous nature allows for a more resilient network structure, as they enable data and services to be distributed across a wider geographical area. Mobile devices enhance the edge computing paradigm, where computational tasks are performed closer to the data source, reducing latency and bandwidth demands. They also foster an inclusive digital environment by providing access to the web in remote areas, thus democratising information dissemination and promoting digital equity.

Evaluate the potential geopolitical implications of a decentralised web

A decentralised web could reshape geopolitical landscapes by redistributing data control from central authorities to a more distributed model. This could lead to a reduction in the ability of any single nation to control or censor information, thereby promoting free speech and reducing the power imbalances in global information dissemination. However, it also presents challenges in data governance and cybersecurity, as the broader distribution of data increases the complexity of regulatory compliance and the need for international cooperation to manage security threats. These shifts could ultimately lead to new forms of geopolitical tension or collaboration.

Alfie avatar
Written by: Alfie
Cambridge University - BA Maths

A Cambridge alumnus, Alfie is a qualified teacher, and specialises creating educational materials for Computer Science for high school students.

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