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Why Solana is the ‘World Computer’ Blockchain Developers Need

Multicoin Capital’s Kyle Samani explains the investment thesis in Solana, the world’s first web-scale blockchain

This week, Solana announced the completion of a Series A funding round totalling $20 million raised from the most notable capital allocators in blockchain. Led by Multicoin Capital, the raise included significant participation in pursuit of creating the world’s first web-scale blockchain from Distributed Global, Blocktower Capital, Foundation Capital, Blockchange VC, Slow Ventures, NEO Global Capital, Passport Capital and Rockaway Ventures.

“Solana is the closest thing to the ‘world computer’ blockchain developers conceptualized in the early days of crypto,” explains Kyle Samani, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Multicoin Capital, which has an investment portfolio that includes groundbreaking blockchain ventures that includes Skale, Bakkt, Livepeer, and Helium. “Solana is one of the most compelling layer 1 platforms we’ve evaluated to date. We’re very proud to lead this round, and we encourage developers everywhere to take a serious look at Solana.”

Samani followed up the statement with a comprehensive blog post titled ‘The World Computer Should Be Logically Centralized’ that explains the Multicoin investment thesis for the Solana project. The article provides an excellent opportunity to get more familiar with the Solana tech infrastructure, and what it means in regards to the state of blockchain development. We’ll highlight some of the key elements of the article below with an abbreviated version of the text, but the whole article is required reading.

To begin, there are six key properties that all developers of trust-minimized apps require to succeed, and Solana maintains all of them:

  1. High throughput: the network today demonstrated peak capacity over 50,000 transactions per second on a global network of over 60 participating consensus nodes
  2. Low latency: 400ms blocks
  3. Inexpensive transaction fees: $10 for 1,000,000 transactions
  4. Rust as the flagship programming language (also supports C, C++, and Libra’s Move)
  5. An asynchronous, BFT consensus algorithm
  6. A single global state that supports composable smart contracts

Developers building smart contracts don’t want to deal with layer 2 and sharding. The entire point of having a smart contract chain is that the chain itself abstracts all of the lower-level complexities and economic system necessary to deliver trust-minimized computation, allowing application developers to focus on application-logic. Indeed, when Vitalik unveiled Ethereum to the world in Miami in January 2014, this is precisely what he emphasized: the point of the world computer is to abstract everything that is not application-specific!

While there are many types of scaling solutions being worked on, each of them create idiosyncratic forms of complexity for application developers, users, and the ecosystem as a whole. The last of these forms of complexity — what I call “creating ecosystem baggage” — is particularly challenging to deal with. All of the heterogeneous scaling solutions are responses to the fact that, until now, no one has figured out how to scale layer 1 while also preserving sufficient architectural and political decentralization until Solana.

The case for Solana is one that developers don’t have to depend on scaling solutions (developers will certainly deploy layer 2 things on top of Solana, and they’ll be able to because Solana is permissionless). For the vast majority of use cases, developers building on Solana just don’t have to think about scaling at all because the entire point of Solana’s layer 1 is to abstract complexity.

Hardware, Software, and Computational Abundance

As yet in blockchain tech, scarcity of money supply and scarcity of trust-minimized computation have previously been bundled. Solana unbundles these. The world computer must offer abundant computation, but be powered by scarce money.

Solana’s guiding principle is that software shall not get in the way of hardware. This has three major implications:

First, the Solana network as a whole operates at the same speed as a single validator. This is actually intuitive: if software doesn’t get in the way of hardware, the network will perform at the same speed as a single machine, assuming bandwidth is not the bottleneck (it’s not; more on this in the Turbine section below).

Second, aggregate network performance scales alongside bandwidth and the number of GPU cores. Bandwidth continues to double every 24–36 months, and modern internet connections are many orders of magnitude away from saturating the physical limits of fiber. And while single threaded CPU performance is no longer improving in line with Moore’s law, GPUs continue to double the number of cores every 18–24 months with no end in sight

And third, because of the fact that Solana’s aggregate network performance grows linearly with the underlying hardware, Solana creates abundance where there is currently scarcity: trust-minimized computation.

Tech Overview

There are seven major technical breakthroughs making Solana possible. The section headers link to detailed explanations from the Solana team. In order going up the stack:

  1. Proof of History (POH) — POH is a subtle but foundational innovation on top of which the rest of Solana’s unique architecture is built.
  2. Tower BFT — A POH-optimized version of PBFT that prefers liveness to consistency.
  3. Turbine — A block propagation protocol that borrows heavily from BitTorrent. Solana scales linearly with the bandwidth of the fastest ⅔ of nodes. All other chains scale sub-linearly.
  4. Gulf Stream—A mempool-less transaction forwarding protocol.
  5. Pipeline VM—Pipeline is a custom VM that is leverages the LLVM to compile code for GPUs for massively parallel transaction execution (not just signature verification). This enables extraordinary scaling gains for Solana.
  6. Cloudbreak—A horizontally-scalable accounts database. Traditional databases like LevelDB cannot exceed more than ~5,000 random writes per second on a single instance. Cloudbreak is Solana’s novel solution to horizontally scale disk I/O. Cloudbreak is based on OS techniques such as scatter-gather to deliver unparalleled disk I/O.
  7. Replicators—A distributed ledger store to address the data availability problem for petabytes of data. Rather than requiring consensus nodes to store the entire history, Solana leverages a second class of node — Replicators — whose only responsibility is to store small fragments of transaction history.

The common theme among these innovations can be summed in a word: optimization. Solana is the clearest example I’ve seen of first principles-based engineering at every layer of the stack. The team systematically identified every point at which other chains slow down (e.g. consensus overhead, single-threaded computation, and disk I/O) and designed unique solutions to address every problem.

Libra and Move

Facebook’s Libra team created a new VM and programming language called Move. Although Libra will not be programmable at the time of their mainnet launch in 2020, the Libra team has already open sourced the Move code base. And it turns out that Move and Solana’s Pipeline VM are more similar than different.

Solana natively supports Move, including BPF and parallel transaction processing. This means that developers can trivially port applications written for the permissioned Libra chain to the permissionless Solana chain and receive all of the performance that Solana has to offer.

This is an incredible catalyst for Solana as Solana benefits from Libra’s distribution while still operating in an entirely permissionless fashion. Based on Solana’s projected mainnet launch in October 2019, Solana is likely to be the first chain to actually support Move-based applications.

Unique Applications

Solana is so performant that it enables entirely new classes of applications that were previously impossible. An oracle running on Solana can provide a price feed update every 400ms. A decentralized exchange that can handle 30,000 price updates per second and settle on a price every 400ms.

Meeting The Community

Over the next few months leading into projected mainnet launch in October, the Solana team is embarking on a global tour to meet developers around the world, answer questions, and show the system in action. They’ll be at Web3 Summit in August in Berlin, Wanxiang Blockchain week in Shanghai in September, and Devcon5 in Japan in October, in addition to smaller events around the world. If you’re going to be at any of those events, please reach out to the Solana team and say hello!



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Andrew Hyde

Andrew Hyde

Community and NFT’s at world class crypto companies. Founder of Startup Weekend. Lover of travel.