UCLA Masters of Engineering graduate (and Ph.D. drop out) Paul Baran designed and described the first distributed relay node architecture as a “survivable” communications system during the Cold War. This offered a solution to the American military reliance on hub to spoke high frequency radio connections, which were vulnerable to nuclear attack. Baran’s system allowed end points (spokes) to continue to communicate even if one end point of the network had been damaged in a nuclear attack. The Distributed Network routed communication around damage, where the hub and spoke system would have been rendered ineffective.
Paul Baran’s work was foundational to the internet’s development.
The principles of the distributed system and its value (first applied in the Cold War) are extensible. The Distributed Network is resilient to attack, continuing to perform even after a portion of nodes is incapacitated in an attack. This differs from centralized systems, which may be destroyed if a central node or hub is attacked.
The decentralized network is a blend of the centralized and Distributed Network. Like the centralized network, it can be destroyed by an attack of a small number of nodes . As the relative size of central hub nodes changes (as defined by number of links to/from the hub), the number of nodes that must be attacked to destroy the network changes; it may increase or decrease. A decentralized network may be destroyed or rendered vulnerable by the attack of a single node if that single node links to a majority or large share of the decentralized network’s nodes.
The type of attack that destroys a decentralized or centralized network goes beyond nuclear attack to include network corruption, third party influence, taxation, co-option, and data siphoning – thus the importance of the Distributed Network.
Note for Bitcoin and blockchain-minded readers: Although the term decentralization is so commonly used at conferences and beyond, Satoshi’s white paper “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System ” does not use the term decentralization – not once. The blockchain mining network is designed and referenced by Satoshi as a Distributed Network.