The verification and storage of blockchain data that occurs on nodes is a vital component of blockchain existence. In recent times, underdeveloped node infrastructure has hindered wide scale usability of decentralized applications. For Ethereum, large spikes in transaction requests have proven to render the network inaccessible for prospective users- an issue that application services such as Google Play, and Apple Store don’t face with their massive, centrally hosted servers.
Heading into 2019, there are about 2,500 decentralized applications running on Ethereum in existence with roughly 1.6 million transactions per day, according to figures reported on state of the dapps. DApp ecosystem growth is occurring right before our own eyes, but market presence is still dwarfed by the millions of applications that are instantly usable from centrally ran business models, such as the Apple Store, for example.
There are about 10,000 Bitcoin nodes, and 9,000 Ethereum nodes respectively, distributed around the globe today. These protocols (Bitcoin/Ethereum) along with future decentralized blockchains will not be able to reach billions of people unless infrastructural bottlenecks are resolved, with secure and scalable relay services. It will be especially difficult to foresee dApps becoming widely adopted in the world over the convenience provided by competing centralized versions. In order to achieve decentralization of data, added participation is needed at the infrastructure level.
Centralized Infrastructural Solutions
ConsenSys, the Ethereum company responsible for key developer tools such as Truffle suite, and web browser wallet interface Metamask, has launched Infura as a gateway that broadens access to the Ethereum network through their set of operational nodes.
Infura – Gateway to Ethereum
Infura has provided immense value to the Ethereum ecosystem by efficiently processing a large portion of transaction requests on the network for free. Although Infura services a decentralized ecosystem, it is heavily reliant on AWS servers, which represents an isolated point of failure. Because of this, Infura cannot be considered a sustainable fail-safe for decentralized networks. A data breach or shutdown at Infura would directly implicate many users, which is not aligned with the spaces founding philosophies, and Infura leadership understands this.
Embracing its startup roots, and the underlying ethos of decentralization, ConsenSys has begun incubating and supporting projects that address Ethereum’s infrastructure issues in new ways.
Alternative node infrastructure
Rather than relying heavily on Infura as a bridge to the Ethereum network, there are some projects dedicated to providing fee-based or self-reliant node services themselves. These node networks are committed to reducing single points of failure on the Ethereum network. While projects host nodes for hire, more optionality in the ecosystem will boost decentralization and dApp resilience of the current market.
DApp developers who need node services, but don’t have the time to set up and maintain their own node scan turn directly to QuikNode or QuikNodePro, a project that serves the demand for a completely private, globally balanced, highly-available, elastic, node services for fees. Aiming to increase the utility of running a full node, QuikNode provides a powerful search and integrates with popular services such as MyEtherWallet and Metamask.
QuikNode truly lives up to its name, users can send Ether to a smart contract that will grant node access within minutes. There are multiple geographical regions to select from, distributed across the globe. Prices currently set at .97 ETH/Month, or .76 ETH/Month for a full year.
“Built for developers. Evolved for Enterprise.” Blockdaemon brings customers cross-cloud blockchain node access for fees. Just as other node infrastructure services, Blockdaemon’s value is established by alleviating the node maintenance burdens that currently befall blockchain developers. The user experience on the Blockdaemon website is dynamic and intuitive, including “Live Chat” support, and tutorial videos. Upon creation of a log-in, visual prompts appear immediately for getting started on either Ethereum, Bitcoin, AION, Stellar, or GOChain, with an additional option to start a private chain, through Blockdaemon services.
Prices are listed at $14.99 per node/month for Explorer package which includes quick and easy access to public Bitcoin and Ethereum nodes, $249.99 per node/month for Ecosystem package that boasts deluxe capabilities, and an Enterprise version available upon contact.
Blockdaemon currently utilizes services such as AWS, Digital Ocean, and Google Cloud platforms. Despite relying on a base of centralized cloud services, the project is committed to running analytics that increase clarity about node distribution. Blockdaemon stands by the hybrid cloud vision and understands that the advent of Bitcoin and blockchains are here to stay. Blockdaemon exemplifies innovation by jumping into an underdeveloped space for business models and offering viable productization of relay services that bond blockchain with cloud computing.
Nodesmith is an AION network infrastructural effort that has emerged through the AION Bounty program. The mission at Nodesmith is to further adoption of decentralized networks by making it incredibly easy for developers to build applications that interact with these networks. And having served over 10 million API requests and 99.81% uptime, they have created a solid and trustworthy foundation for AION Network.
With plans to extend to the Ethereum network and IPFS soon, the team at Nodesmith has built a tool to smoke test the AION network, which runs every single supported JSON RPC request against both AION mainnet and testnet nodes, and reports the results via a Slack bot. They are full believers in open source and share their tools on GitHub. Nodesmith has great documentation and provides what Infura serves for Ethereum network, on the AION network.
Here’s a smaller project that provides Ethereum node service on demand. Genoda is in beta stage and is committed to building with price transparency at the forefront.
The Genoda pricing formula: Price = (Storage Cost + Instance Cost) x Maintenance Coefficient + Traffic Cost
Getting started is simple, and fast, once an account is created, it takes only 3 minutes to customize your own cluster of Ethereum nodes through a very user-friendly interface.
Decentralized node infrastructure
In order to achieve sufficiently decentralized node infrastructure, it is imperative that:
- No single entity controls the network of nodes.
- Autonomy exists whether through self-hosting or sharing.
- Secure marketplace allows the exchange of value for relay services.
Currently, too much trust is placed on centralized entities such as AWS for running decentralized applications. DApp Node project lead Eduardo Antuña implores the community to participate in transforming the allocation of responsibility for hosting dApps, through decentralized node infrastructure. The level of importance and dedication to this goal has landed DApp Node a grant from the Ethereum Foundation. Here’s why:
As a dApp developer, the general upkeep of running nodes can be strenuous. That’s why the DApp Node team has rolled up their sleeves to provide simple node installation processes for developers interested in hosting their own nodes. This includes the Ethereum blockchain, as well as access to early-stage software for a Bitcoin node. The project even offers a physical device called an Avado box that alleviates the incumbent hardware burdens of running a full node on local machinery.
In a way, DApp Node software is akin to WordPress for node self-hosting. Just as WP makes it obscenely easy to bypass the technical steps involved with coding web pages, DApp Node establishes much-needed abstractions for developers to get their DApp up and running autonomously.
There are a handful of high-quality companies such as Gnosis, MyCrypto, and Aragon who have launched decentralized versions of their websites using DApp Node.
Self-hosting made simple is an intriguing and inspirational tool for the future of dApp infrastructure. It’s practical and hands-on. The more that people become familiar with maintaining local node hardware, the more likely p2p systems are to emerge. This approach also validates the project’s decentralization efforts through consumer demand and has the potential to dramatically widen the user base of DApp developers, and DApp enthusiasm.
Node infrastructure requires expansion and incentivization for relay services through sound protocols. DApp Node plans on reaching sustainability through other protocols that reward users for hosting full nodes such as FileCoin and Mysterium.
In late 2017, Andrey Petrov witnessed some major issues on the Ethereum network. He reflects that during the population boom in network usage, light clients became maxed out, and full node access saw very high waiting times. Having experienced the series of events firsthand, Andrey constructed his own full node service and began hypothesizing on ways to incentive node operators to follow suit.
Vipnode (beta) prompts developers to pay a self-honored donation of Ether to a smart contract for 30-day access. Upon future releases, the project grants full node operators potential revenue streams for providing developers prioritized access. The goal is to facilitate peer-to-peer services through smart contracts. That’s the spirit!
For version 2, a proposal has established the creation of vipnode pools with peer-reviewed whitelisting to disburse proportionate rewards for relay services based on specific stats. The process will include requesting ethstats from Ethereum client and communication of vipstats internally for corroboration between nodes.
Vipnode is humming along with the “v2” roadmap with a demo you can access on the GitHub. It demonstrates payment integration for node access through an Ethereum smart contract. The overall theme centers around connecting a “Client” mode (for those seeking node access for their dApp) with a “Host” mode (for full node pools willing to establish relay services). The smart contract is located on the Rinkeby test network at vipnode.org/pool/. Check it out, it’s really cool.
Overall node incentivization and node operator population growth is a work in progress that Andrey and his peers believe is worth addressing, which has been validated by an Ethereum Foundation grant for the Vipnode project!
The pressing need for node infrastructure invites ideation on marketplace mechanisms that can sustain services in a secure, and decentralized manner. Rather than sell physical hardware, Pocket Network is a protocol that fully incentivizes node operators with native token rewards (POKT) while delivering a straightforward plugin system that allows application developers to easily connect to the node operators for their chosen builds.
By providing a monetization layer for anyone running a full node and providing an Infura-like, stable API service Pocket Network provides:
- Incentives for running full nodes by getting mint per API request.
- Gateways for DApps to connect to different blockchains which may enable multichain applications through a plugin system.
- Lower barrier of entry through practical UX for nodes and developers.
- Greater efficiencies and new business model for others running full nodes.
With transaction relays and validation strongly established, developers can focus on launching products that connect their users to any and/or multiple blockchains. Today, Pocket has made infrastructure and SDKs that easily connect to Ethereum and AION readily available for developers. In early Q2 of 2019, Pocket Core client will be released, a major step towards Pocket’s vision of decentralized infrastructure.