TOP Network: Pioneering Decentralized Cloud Communications as a Service
Over the past decade, the cloud computing industry has seen exponential growth. In particular, “as a Service” models are experiencing a massive surge in popularity, with the global market size projected to reach $278B by 2021. While cloud computing services are most popular among small to midsize businesses, even large enterprises are beginning to realize the benefits of outsourcing parts of their business to the cloud. The ever improving Internet infrastructure has contributed a great deal to this rapid growth, allowing network intensive cloud services to be used over high-bandwidth connections with high-reliability.
There are a few broad categories of aaS models, including Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure as a Service(IaaS).
SaaS is software provided over the Internet which is hosted by the cloud provider. An example of SaaS is Google Docs. Unlike traditional software, there is no one-time licensing purchase or installation required. Most SaaS providers follow a subscription based business model
PaaS is where a third-party provides certain tools and APIs over the Internet for developers to build platform specific applications. Essentially, PaaS provides the building blocks that allow developers to create applications. The goal of PaaS is to make it very simple for developers to build, test, manage and deploy applications. All the servers, networking, storage etc. is handled by the PaaS provider. The developers only need to concern themselves with development and management of the application.
IaaS allows anyone to rent out underlying infrastructure components in remote data centers, providing access to features such as: networking/bandwidth, compute services, and storage. AWS EC2 is an example of an IaaS provider. IaaS providers offer barebones features, and can be thought of as the utilities of the cloud computation world.
Our focus will be on the PaaS model and its subsets since TOP Network fits best into this category. However, TOP Network also has some aspects of an IaaS provider.
Benefits of the PaaS Model
There are many benefits to the PaaS model that have contributed to its increasing popularity. Among the most important are lower development costs, faster development cycles, and easier management. Providing a full-stack platform to build applications on frees developers from worrying about building and managing the underlying infrastructure, and instead allows them to focus on developing their applications.
This model is especially beneficial for startups and medium size business that have limited startup capital. The substantial initial costs associated with the infrastructure required to deploy and host an application can be prohibitive. Maintaining and upgrading on-premise infrastructure can also put a large burden on small to medium size businesses, particularly in their early stages.
Yet another benefit of PaaS and other aaS models is the pay-as-you-go payment scheme that most providers employ. Businesses only pay for what they use, whether that be bandwidth, storage, or compute facilities. For in-house solutions, building out infrastructure that exactly matches the demand for an application is difficult. Furthermore, as the number of users increase, demand grows, and so the infrastructure must be upgraded. Using a cloud PaaS provider allows businesses to scale up in exact proportion to the demand, saving costs while rarely risking poor performance due to an overwhelmed infrastructure.
An emerging subset of PaaS that is seeing a rapid rise in popularity is the Communications as a Service (CaaS) model. Cloud CaaS provides the hardware and software that allows developers to build communications applications without any large startup costs. The communications services typically provided are SMS, voice chat, video conferencing, and streaming. Using a CaaS provider, application developers can embed an easy-to-use SDK to include these communications functions in their applications. There is no need to build servers, lease bandwidth, or manage audio/video codecs. The client usually pays per the amount of bandwidth, messages, or minutes of call time used.
Among the largest players in the rapidly growing CaaS market are Twilio, and Agora. Twilio is a CaaS provider offering services such as voice and video calls, SMS, and more. Using a large communications network consisting of many data centers and servers, Twilio offers APIs that allow developers to integrate communications functions into their applications with a relative ease. The CaaS company services high profile clients like Lyft, and managed to net $650m in revenue in 2018, with projections for 2019 close to the $1B mark. Agora is another successful CaaS company which delivers real-time communications functions such as voice and video broadcasting. Their APIs are used in over 500 million devices, making Agora one of the most widely adopted real-time communications providers in the world.
These are just two examples from the fast growing CaaS industry. The market for this type of service is massive, and still has ample room for growth. However, there is a paradigm shift taking place that could challenge these CaaS providers, and many cloud providers in other industries as well. Blockchain technology is allowing new models to take shape, and among them is the Decentralized Cloud Computing as a Service model.
Decentralized Communications as a Service (DCaaS)
There is no doubt that centralized CaaS providers can deliver high quality service. However, the DCaaS model that TOP Network is pioneering can bring to the table several advantages over its centralized counterpart.
For many, the most significant benefit of a DCaaS model over a centralized version is the added costs savings. Decentralization in the communications industry can reduce costs by an estimated 50%. To see how this is possible, consider what it takes for a company to run a communications network. They need to rent out buildings to host large data centers, maintain a large IT staff to constantly monitor and perform upgrades, and hire security to ensure there are no break-ins. These companies also need to pay for their corporate structure, which includes renting office space, and paying the CEO along with other administrative staff. If the company is publicly traded, they are pressured to maximize profits to appease shareholders, which could lead to higher costs for users.
In an open decentralized communications network like TOP, anyone can act as a server by renting out their PCs, routers etc. While some companies will add their data centers to the network, they are competing in a free market with many different service providers, so the costs are minimized. For the individual service providers, there is typically no corporate structure, no rent payments for large centralized data centers, and no need to hire security staff. They also do not answer to shareholders, allowing them more freedom in terms of pricing. Of course service nodes still need to make profits, but free market mechanisms can help bring costs down to a fair value.
Security and Privacy:
For those concerned with security and privacy, centralized CaaS providers can fall short. While most implement end-to-end encryption, essentially all the traffic running through their data centers is susceptible to some form of government monitoring. Even if the contents are encrypted, there is a lot to glean from knowing who is connecting with whom.
For services such as VPNs, this is especially important. In countries where there is massive surveillance, censorship, and the mass blocking of foreign websites, citizens turn to VPNs to ensure privacy and freedom on the Internet. To deter this, governments often make VPNs illegal. So it is important that people living under restrictive governments can use VPNs without anyone knowing. Unfortunately, it is easy for ISPs to know when a user connects to a centralized VPN, which means governments could technically track who is using a VPN.
This is simply the nature of a centralized architecture with central ownership. When there are only a handful of data centers that are owned by a single company, it is easy for governments to step in and use the force of law to gain access. It is almost a certainty that every large centralized CaaS provider has been required to code back- doors into their SDKs. For VPNs in particular, the government can require that all VPN store and hand over all traffic running through their servers.
Besides government monitoring, there is also an element of trust that must be placed in the employees of the CaaS provider to not steal or peer in on data stored in their data centers. If the CaaS provider’s SDK is not open-source, the user can never be totally certain that nothing nefarious is going on.
For a DCaaS provider like TOP, these security concerns are mitigated. Government monitoring is nearly impossible when there are potentially tens of thousands of service providers around the world. Monitoring each individual service provider is infeasible, and since TOP Network runs autonomously, there is no company that can be subpoenaed. Furthermore, routing can be very unpredictable, adding a layer of difficulty for would be trackers. For instance, each time a person uses a VPN through TOP, they use random relay nodes and proxy nodes. This makes it harder for governments to narrow down who is providing VPN services, and who is using them.
Data is also safer in a decentralized system since it is not stored in a small number of company owned data centers. TOP Network is supported by TOP Storage, which encrypts and distributes generated data to many different nodes in the network. This eliminates the possibility of CaaS providers peering in on data, and disincentivizes hackers since there is no central location where massive amounts of data can be stolen all at once.
Most centralized CaaS providers keep their SDK/APIs at least partially closed-source. By remaining proprietary, flexibility is reduced. TOP Network’s SDK will be completely open-source, allowing developers to build upon and modify it to fit their needs. If a developer wants to add totally new functionality to support additional services, they are welcomed. With a proprietary SDK, only the owners can perform updates and modifications, which can be a slow and frustrating process.
Building a centralized communications network is very expensive. To increase performance in an undercovered area, an entirely new data center must be built in that location. However, in places where there is limited demand, providers often don’t bother. The large costs and risks associated with servers that overproduce is too great. This can — and often does — lead to poor performance in some areas, particularly developing countries that have lower and more unpredictable demand.
In an open decentralized communications network, those living in the undercovered areas are incentivised to become service nodes. Wherever there is low coverage, there will be more demand for service nodes. Since individuals do not need to build massive data centers for it to be worth their while, there is a higher probability that service providers will spring up in lower demand areas. Whereas a centralized CaaS provider can lose money if demand drops due to ongoing costs — such as those from rent and staff — an individual service provider can avoid this by simply switching their node off.
Another benefit to an open network is the ability to turn data centers built for a particular app into sources of additional revenue. Imagine that a company wants to build a popular communications app in a country such as India. Since CaaS providers may not provide sufficient coverage in lower demand areas, the app company could decide to go the in-house route and build their own data center. To reduce possible losses incurred from building an over performing data center, the app company could add their data center as a service node to TOP Network. Besides providing the necessary services for their own app, the data center could now be utilized by other clients to ensure it is being used to its maximum capacity. This hybrid in-house/DCaaS model could generate extra revenue that the app company would otherwise not have had access too. It also acts to increase coverage in locations with low or unpredictable demand.
TOP Network is set to be the first Decentralized Communications as a Service (DCaaS) provider. Powered by a high-performance blockchain, TOP will be offering services that add real value and costing savings when compared to centralized versions. The markets for each service that TOP Network will provide are substantial. As some examples, the market size for VPNs alone is expected to grow to $106B by 2022. A Decentralized VPN as a Service model is a totally novel concept that can provide increased security and cost savings, so it is not unlikely that TOP could grab a significant portion of VPN market share. CDNs are another service that can gain increased performance and cost savings from adopting a decentralized infrastructure. The market for CDN is expected to reach $34B by 2023, and there is large demand for a cheaper alternative, which TOP Network could provide. Yet another large market is video streaming, which is expected to obtain a size of $124.57B by 2025. The other services offered by TOP Network have similarly huge market potentials.
While there is clearly ample opportunity to soak up market share from the rapidly growing CaaS industry, TOP Network is not just for communications. In the future, TOP plans to support additional industries, such as gaming and social eCommerce. These sectors could benefit from TOP Network’s underlying decentralized infrastructure, and both have a massive market potential. Even if TOP Network takes a small slice from each of these industries, there is very bright future ahead.