Decentralization is one of the most important benefits promised by blockchain, as the technology aims to distribute and disperse power away from central authorities. Bitcoin, for example, was designed as a decentralized alternative to government-backed money.
However, many blockchain systems currently run on centralized cloud platforms. It’s been noted that over 60% of all Ethereum nodes rely on cloud-based services, with 25% running on Amazon Web Services, or AWS. As a result, these blockchain networks are vulnerable to policy changes and adjustments made from Amazon. This also leads to the question of whether these systems and their associated cryptocurrencies are truly decentralized.
Kristof De Spiegeleer, the co-founder and CEO of ThreeFold, told Cointelegraph that since 2016, he has been building a peer-to-peer internet to create a truly decentralized global web architecture:
“Currently, less than 20 companies in the world own more than 80% of the internet’s capacity. Data also resides in huge data centers, where 5 to 10% of the world’s electricity goes, a number which will grow in the coming years. Today, we don’t own our data or the applications on our phones.”
Spiegeleer, who previously worked on developing the internet ecosystem, explained that the internet was originally created to provide a platform for free communication and the exchange of values and goods. He plans to restore this through a new peer-to-peer internet where centralized data centers are replaced by a grid of nodes distributed across the world.
Known as the “ThreeFold Grid,” Spiegeleer explained that this model has 80 million gigabytes of storage capacity. Nodes on the grid are owned by “ThreeFold Farmers,” who are individuals based in over twenty-one countries. HP has partnered with ThreeFold to provide Farmers with high-quality hardware. Spiegeleer elaborated:
“Our Farmers own the physical hardware, like storage or a PC, needed to create the capacity that can be used to store data. Yet the data inside of the nodes always belongs to the people or organizations who put the information there.”
Like other decentralized models, ThreeFold Farmers are incentivized to join the network. Once Farmers connect active hardware to the ThreeFold Grid, ThreeFold Tokens (TFT) are created, which can then be sold to those that want to use storage capacity, such as a developer building or hosting a website.
While this is a low-level operating system, Spiegeleer believes that a model such as this will eventually create true decentralization, functioning more efficiently than other storage alternatives such as AWS.
Solving the blockchain dilemma?
It’s also important to point out that workloads deployed on the ThreeFold Grid are managed by ThreeFold’s blockchain database. Known as BCDB, it is built on the Stellar network and is used to create a “smart contract for IT” layer.
According to Spiegeleer, the ThreeFold Grid system contains a self-executing information technology infrastructure. This ensures that workloads built on top of the ThreeFold Grid are managed efficiently. Each deploying party can prove this proper execution to others, as this model functions similarly to other smart contract systems.
ThreeFold recently deployed a Bitcoin node on the ThreeFold Grid to prove the efficiency of its smart contract layer, allowing all stakeholders to check the integrity of the node via the smart contract for IT layer. Moreover, Spiegeleer explained that deploying a Bitcoin node on the ThreeFold Grid demonstrates the ability of blockchain projects to scale, perform and be secure, all of which have been problematic for blockchain networks:
“You can look at our network like a hardware blockchain. We have many nodes, with no shell or server interface and the hacking surface is small. The smart contract for IT layer allows any blockchain project to run their workloads on top of our grids in a way that the blockchain dilemma can be solved.”
While this may be the case, skepticism remains. Barney Mannerings, the founder of the decentralized trading and settlement network Vega Protocol, told Cointelegraph that it’s difficult to understand how the ThreeFold Grid model would scale while maintaining privacy and the integrity of user data:
“ThreeFold claims that you can run a ‘capacity’ node (aka ‘farming’) on pretty much any hardware, but without very careful design using special secure processors, I don’t see how they can stop node operators (who as far as I can tell, could be anyone and certainly may not be trusted) from accessing both the data and the software being run on their grid when a workload is active.”
Mannerings further pointed out that although the ThreeFold Grid doesn’t allow anyone to login to its operating system, it’s challenging to prevent Farmers from accessing the code and data within that system. Due to this, he believes the ThreeFold Grid model may only be suitable for open blockchain models. He elaborated:
“This model may only work for ‘open’ computation, like their example of running a Bitcoin node, where it doesn’t matter that everything happening is visible to the owner of the node (and possibly publicly). If workloads are limited in this way, it is perhaps more like a competing blockchain or smart contract platform, rather than a generalized ‘decentralized AWS.’”
Blockchain projects are showing interest
While Mannerings brings up important points, many blockchain projects have begun to show interest in the solution. Built on the values of decentralization and economic freedom, the blockchain and crypto community share many of the same beliefs as ThreeFold. Mark Heynen, the Stellar Development Foundation’s vice president of business development, told Cointelegraph that Stellar supports the ThreeFold Grid project and is excited that it is building on the Stellar network.
Hans Koning, the chairman of the DigiByte Foundation, also told Cointelegraph that DigiByte shares ThreeFold’s vision as well. He explained, “Blockchain is more than a technology. It’s a social phenomenon and we see that in ThreeFold.” DigiByte recently announced a partnership with ThreeFold to work on developer and user projects on top of the ThreeFold Grid. Interestingly, the partnership with ThreeFold came days after DigiByte’s founder, Jared Tate, left the organization, accusing the crypto community of being too centralized.
Rudy Bouwman, the secretary and vice chairman of the DigiByte Foundation, further told Cointelegraph that the ThreeFold Grid functions as a blockchain noting that there is no single point of failure because it’s entirely decentralized:
“The ThreeFold community can now deploy a DigiByte node. This also allows DigiByte to host our infrastructure on the ThreeFold Grid, making it much more decentralized. This partnership will also allow the DigiByte community of developers and Threefold to join forces to further develop tools that benefit both projects."
Still work to be done
While it may not be obvious, decentralization is still a work in progress for many blockchain projects. And although ThreeFold shows potential for changing this, a lot needs to be accomplished in order for this model to gain adoption.
For instance, Spiegeleer noted that ThreeFold is still trying to find the correct market fit for its technology, as this model can be applied outside of the blockchain realm. He also mentioned that the company’s reach must grow, noting that many more nodes are required throughout the world. “We need to reach 100 thousand locations. Once that happens, this will become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Spiegeleer said.
According to Mannerings, more technical analysis of ThreeFold’s technology is also required to back up its impressive claims. He noted that currently there isn’t much technical information available in the form of papers or algorithms. He further noted that the solution doesn’t sound suitable for private workloads.
Nonetheless, Spiegeleer remains confident in the new internet model ThreeFold is creating, saying that the company is currently working with 15 blockchain projects and that 15 more are waiting to join the network.