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Monolith Spotlights: iExec, the blockchain cloud computing solution

Ethereum is on the way to creating the next iteration of the Internet. As the evolution of Web3 seeks to solve many of the problems found with relying on centralised intermediaries, a number of promising solutions leveraging the power of blockchain have emerged in recent years. One example is iExec, a blockchain cloud computing solution running on Ethereum. For our latest Monolith Spotlights feature, we examine the project in detail.

iExec explained

One problem with the Internet in its current form is the amount of computing power that many applications require to run smoothly. Since we started to rely on the benefits of a global data sharing network in our everyday lives, we’ve become increasingly dependent on large-scale centralised cloud computing services such as Amazon Web Service. But this presents security problems, and it can mean that there’s only a single point of failure preventing an outage. When major companies rely on centralised cloud computing services, the costs of downtime if the network fails can be enormous.

iExec aims to solve this issue.

iExec is a blockchain network that’s best described as a decentralised cloud.

iExec, the decentralised cloud (Source: iExec)

Running on Ethereum, the iExec network is made up of computing resource providers. Computing power providers can connect their machines and be rewarded in RLC tokens for contributing resources to the network. In addition to computing power, data is another resource that can be securely monetized through iExec. It seeks to be an alternative to the current system, in which many companies heavily rely on bigger centralised services such as Amazon Web Service.

It could potentially improve efficiency by running a network that anyone with spare computation power and an Ethereum address can participate in and earn rewards.

As off-chain computations are brought back on-chain for validation and blockchain-level consensus, the network ensures security, confidentiality and transparency between the parties involved in each transaction.

iExec runs a Dapp store, where anyone can list their decentralised application powered by iExec off-chain computer. It also runs its own Marketplace for cloud computing resources (computing power, applications or datasets), connecting resource providers with requesters.

One key use of the network is allowing builders to run price data oracles to provide off-chain price feeds, something that’s become integral to the Ethereum ecosystem.

In 2021, iExec launched its V5 protocol. The updates focussed on interoperability, and introduced ERC-721 NFT tokens representing computing resources on its marketplace, compatibility with Ethereum Name Service to support readable Ethereum addresses, and a Trusted Execution Environment solution aiming to preserve privacy of data-in-use.

While the team has focussed on collaborating with decentralised projects, their collaborations include computing giant Intel. With them, they’re working on building the future of Artificial Intelligence as part of Intel’s AI Builder Program.

iExec believes that the future of the world will include smart cities, and its hope is to become an integral part of the change.

The RLC token

iExec’s native crypto token is RLC. Providers of cloud computing resources (computing power, applications or datasets) receive RLC in exchange for contributing to the network. It’s an ERC-20 token, which means it’s compatible with Ethereum. It’s also available in the Monolith app: our users can send, swap and store RLC tokens, and they can also be used to top up our Visa debit card.

In conversation with iExec

To learn more about the project and its plans for the future, we spoke to Blair Maclennan from the iExec marketing and community team.

The crypto space obviously experienced huge growth in 2020. How were you affected by the growth of the space?

We are happy to have seen an increased interest in blockchain recently, but not surprised. What was most interesting for us to see was that even long after the crypto craze of 2017, we’ve observed with our own eyes the blockchain ecosystem has been consistently improving, year after year. So of course, this time around is even more exciting, given that we have more useful smart contract use cases than ever before. The emerging DeFi industry for example, and more accessible cryptocurrency products like Monolith.

One of last year’s talking points was the problems associated with certain oracles, particularly in combination with flash loans. How does iExec aim to improve the current landscape of oracle solutions?

The tech behind iExec Decentralized Oracles has existed since 2016. The consensus protocol that iExec runs on, which validates off-chain computation, works perfectly for decentralised oracles. iExec Decentralized Oracles work by the nodes executing off-chain logic before returning certification is achieved back on the blockchain. The unique value added by iExec comes from integrating Confidential Computing or “trusted computing” with decentralised oracles. This works by processing results in a highly secured environment (Intel® SGX hardware enclaves), meaning no one can access or change them, ensuring that data connecting Web2 and Web3 is treated in the most secure way possible. You can try out a sandbox demonstration of trusted iExec oracles here.

iExec oracles (Source: iExec)

This year marked the launch of iExec V5. Can you give an overview of what the updates bring to the platform?

iExec V5 was a very technical release, integrating building blocks and features for interoperability and scalability. Over the past few years, these releases have established strong foundations, and iExec is now pursuing adoption from blockchain, crypto and DeFi projects, meaning that why can use iExec for trusted off-chain computing (be it anything from secure data sharing to secure decentralised oracles). Our adoption strategy is starting off with some basic products initially, based on the iExec stack that will be easily understood and usable by the greatest number of users/developers possible: oracle, private data (NFTs), workers, etc. The aim is to have an easy-to-understand and easy-to-use interface that can be used by a greater number of users and developers. We look forward to showing this off soon. To get an idea of what iExec can offer, test some of the iExec demo interfaces here.

Can you give a step-by-step process on how a data provider interacts with the platform?

iExec is a decentralised infrastructure for cloud computing resources, with a complete solution to run privacy-preserving executions of any application.

Developers and enterprises can use the iExec tools to monetize data. Data providers can list their valuable datasets or AI models, and through iExec, these can be used with an application combined with remote computing power. The providers of the datasets, applications, and computing power are all rewarded through the decentralised iExec Marketplace.

We recently released an iExec private data/Confidential Computing demo, showing how it is possible to send you an email without ever knowing your email address… amazing right?

RLC is available via Monolith. What are the benefits and use cases of the token for our users?

The iExec RLC token was created as a method of exchange used for buying and selling cloud computing resources. Solutions such as Monolith allow for those already exchanging on the iExec marketplace to take their asset even further — paying for a coffee directly from your cloud computing resources is a brilliant concept!

How will iExec make an impact on the future of Artificial Intelligence technology?

For the most part, the recent rapid development of AI is thanks to enormous amounts of datasets becoming available. Some of these datasets are so large and complex that even data scientists are pulling their hair out. We are also seeing a further increase in the resistance of citizens and companies sharing their data. This is where Confidential Computing through iExec comes in — enabling secure and reassuring solutions addressing the upstream movement stage of data generation. No AI model will be satisfied if it is not being fed with valuable and certified large data sets.

As we head towards a smart city world, how will iExec be a part of the evolution?

At iExec, we’re building the infrastructure needed to address the next digital era. If we imagine 5G-connected smart cities of the future, we imagine “machine-to-machine” or “edge computing” economies. But for this, we will need a layer for interoperability, in order to allow these different technologies to work together. We know that smart cities will be based on millions of connected devices, built and owned by thousands of different companies. But, we know we will not have just one hardware standard, nor software standard. So we need this solution to ensure that the fragmented infrastructure and networks will be able to work together. That’s what iExec is building. A use case that iExec showcased at the Intel® booth at Mobile World Congress 2019 is a perfect example of this.

Learn more about iExec here.
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