bloXroute: the Akamai for Blockchains
By Professor Aleksandar Kuzmanovic
*This post was updated on November 10, 2020
We often refer to bloXroute as the “Akamai for blockchains.” In this blog post, we will explain how both companies solved scalability, unlocking the potential of new technology, and compare the key similarities and differences between the two.
The World Wide Web’s Scalability Problem
In the 1990s, the early days of the World Wide Web, it became obvious that the Web had a big problem — scalability. The Web was never architected to support the levels of performance, reliability, and scalability that modern-day commercial applications demand. Serving millions of clients from a single server wasn’t possible and simply increasing the number of servers at a single location wasn’t the answer to the growing scalability challenge because Internet clients were scattered across the globe and clients had to fetch data from distant locations via flaky Internet paths. Thus, it was necessary to make content closer to end-users, and avoid long Internet paths.
Akamai was a pioneer in this space. To scale the Web, Akamai deployed a massive content distribution network (CDN) infrastructure, consisting of hundreds of thousands of servers worldwide, making them closer to end-users. Next, it proactively distributed the content made by Web publishers via its CDN. Further, to minimize the client-server latency, Akamai performed extensive network and server measurements and used them to optimize end-user’s performance. Finally, it utilized the Domain Name System (DNS) to effectively redirect clients to close-by servers over short time scales.
CDNs unlocked the potential of the Web in ways we could have never imagined. Low latency and global reach has allowed millions of users across the globe to seamlessly stream video from YouTube or instantly connect via social networks. These technologies, among others, could not have been possible without scale.
Blockchain’s Scalability Problem
Blockchains today are at a similar place where the Web was 20 years ago — in its infancy and with the scalability problem unsolved. In a similar way Akamai solved the problem for the Web, by propagating data more quickly across the Internet, so does bloXroute today, by providing a technology breakthrough to propagate data throughout the blockchain P2P network. In particular, bloXroute deploys a Blockchain Distribution Network (BDN) that helps blockchain nodes propagate transactions and blocks quicker and more efficiently. (bloXroute’s BDN architecture, neutrality, and performance were discussed in our previous blog posts). In the same way CDNs unlocked the potential of the Web, bloXroute’s BDN unlocks blockchain’s potential use cases.
Comparing Akamai and bloXroute
Both Akamai’s CDN and bloXroute’s BDN are unified and dedicated network infrastructures that serve multiple entities simultaneously: different Web publishers (e.g., Apple.com and Adobe.com) in Akamai’s case, and different blockchains (e.g., Bitcoin and Ethereum) in bloXroute’s case. Both architectures actively push (propagate) content across the Internet, and cache (store) content on its servers in order to serve users better, i.e., with a larger throughput and a smaller latency.
There are substantial differences between the two networks. The first is scale. The amount of data on the Web is significant, i.e., at the order of Exabytes. Blockchains, on the other hand, generate orders of magnitude less data. Thus, Akamai’s network, with over 240,000 servers in over 130 countries is much larger than bloXroute’s. The second difference is the dominant model of communication. In Akamai’s scenario, content is downloaded only by interested users, not by everyone. Hence, we call it selective pull. In contrast, bloXroute enables a broadcast primitive for a blockchain network, which means transmitting data to all blockchain nodes in order to help them reach a consensus. Accordingly, we call it unselective push. The third difference is the content longevity. On the Web, content generated weeks (or longer) ago could still be interesting to users. Thus, Akamai’s CDN must cache content for a long time. In bloXroute, blocks and transactions are distributed in a timely manner, within hundreds of milliseconds, to all other nodes in the network.
Another architectural point of discrepancy is the optimization for the “last-mile” Internet bottlenecks. Akamai’s infrastructure is massive and hence its CDN servers “live” very close to end-users. In bloXroute, however, bloXroute Gateways “live” at end-users, i.e., their full nodes. Thus, while bloXroute’s infrastructure is necessarily much smaller in size, it actually comes closer to the end-users. Another issue relevant for “last-mile” bottlenecks is the compression rate that can be achieved by the two systems. Given the diversity of Web data that Akamai serves, its compression rate is typical (e.g., 2.7:1 for jpeg images). On the contrary, the content of a blockchain block is highly deterministic, i.e., it consists of transactions, already cached at bloXroute’s Gateways and Relays. Therefore, the block compression rates in bloXroute are far more substantial (e.g., 135:1 for a block), which dramatically helps with scaling.
Finally, contrary to Akamai’s CDN, neutrality is a unique, yet necessary, property of bloXroute’s BDN. bloXroute utilizes transaction-based neutrality, meaning, by design, it cannot stop nodes, wallets, users, transactions, or blocks from utilizing bloXroute’s BDN. This is nowhere needed nor deployed in Akamai. bloXroute does this by ensuring all nodes are kept in sync regarding the state of the mempool via periodically sending updates to Gateways on new transactions, of which bloXroute cannot prevent or delay from being included in the update. This is not the case with Akamai, where classical quality-of-service differentiation, based on the type of traffic (e.g., real-time vs. non-real-time traffic), is necessary.
Akamai’s CDN approach to scaling the Web was tremendously successful. We believe that bloXroute’s BDN approach — deploying a dedicated, global, smart, and neutral network infrastructure to scale all blockchains — will be equally successful.
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