As CTO of Bluzelle, I am often reminded of how prevalent the blockchain has become in our industry, at conferences, meetups, and related social events.
Indeed, in the past few years, the blockchain has become one of the hottest technologies in the software industry, promising to disrupt multiple sectors including banking/payments, IT infrastructure, insurance, government, and others. In fact, when it comes to decentralization and trustless computing, the only real technology that is actively discussed is blockchain.
Blockchains are but one of many different decentralized networks, and decentralized networks themselves are typically a subset of a larger group called trustless networks.
Decentralized networks’ nodes can interoperate without a centralized source of decision making and management. More specifically, the nodes can make decisions amongst themselves, including systemic administrative decisions on the basis of consensus, where some subset of the nodes collaborate using a consensus algorithm to determine a conclusion. There are many forms of consensus, but they all share the goal of making key necessary decisions as a group. The power here is obvious — no given node is special, so there are few vulnerabilities in such a network. Nodes can come and go, and in fact, there is no need whatsoever to validate or specifically give permission to individual nodes to join. Most importantly, no single node or conspiracy of nodes is able to unilaterally take any actions of material impact on the network as a whole. This is because properly designed decentralized consensus algorithms require the participation of a substantial proportion of the population in order for decisions to be made and ensuing actions to happen. This negates bad actors. Notable other networks in the decentralized family include mesh networks and swarm networks (like the Bluzelle DB).
In trustless networks, the nodes participating do not have to specifically be permissioned or validated in any sort of way, yet these nodes, as a group, can be trusted to make the right, self-serving decisions that are also aligned with the best interests of the whole. More specifically, trust that was previously required of a single, centralized actor (like a database server) is now distributed so finely amongst all the nodes in the system, that trust in any one single node is no longer required, leading to trustlessness. Each of these nodes is incentivized by economic models to act correctly and cooperate with others. For example, in a PoW blockchain, each miner has a strong economic incentive to act properly by calculating hashes and finding a new block that furthers the blockchain. The miner earns a block reward plus mining fees, committing new transactions to the new block in the process. At the same time, the miner can be trusted to complete this process honestly and accurately, thanks to checking by all the other miners in the network but also due to the fact that all the miners are vested in the very currency they are mining for. As a result, any miner would be amiss to do something to negatively impact the currency’s value. Every such miner in typical blockchains is an unvetted and unidentified node, in a “permissionless” environment where the decisions of the network are determined by a group of trustless resources.
The key takeaways here are the following:
- Blockchains are a type of decentralized network, but it is important to recognize the many other types of decentralized networks including mesh networks and swarm networks.
- Decentralized networks are vital to introducing reliability into a network, by removing any centralized form of decision making, delegating this responsibility to the collective whole, via a consensus algorithm.
- Trustless networks’ participating nodes, who each make decisions in their own favor, will implicitly make decisions that are also aligned with and favour the entire network, but with the additional property that the nodes themselves need not be specifically vetted or permissioned to participate. Trust that was previously centralized is now spread out amongst the nodes to the point that no given individual node needs to be trusted as long as the collective of trustless nodes cooperate with each other.
The Bluzelle DB is a trustless network of farming nodes that form swarms, so the Bluzelle DB is in fact also a decentralized network. These nodes are each unpermissioned and unvetted, yet the Bluzelle DB network is architected to ensure that each farmer’s self-serving interests and ensuing actions are aligned with those of each swarm the farmer participates in. Furthermore, each swarm, itself an entity of its own, has self-serving interests and each swarm’s actions are also aligned with the interests of the network as a whole. Therefore, it can be concluded that every node in the Bluzelle DB network, despite being unpermissioned and unvetted, is aligned with the network’s goal of storing data in a secure, reliable, performant, and scalable way.