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Arweave aims to deliver a global, permanent hard drive on a new kind of blockchain. If successful it may enable high throughput, decentralized, immutable, and most importantly, low cost data storage. The team consists of current PhD computer science candidates out of the University of Kent who joined the TechStars Berlin 2018 accelerator program under the name Archain (since renamed to avoid confusion with other projects such as Rchain and Achain). When you read down to the Team and Advisors section you’ll see both the University of Kent and TechStars fingerprints all over this project. TechStars is an incubator to look out for, they produced another hyped cryptocurrency project: Loom Network (TechStars NY). The team publishes on Medium often so it is easy to follow along the history of the project from their pre-TechStars to post-TechStars days. There is a clear graduation from a university-based project to a “cryptocurrency” project flushed with advisors and a marketing machine behind it as you read through their posts. That clear growth to me indicates a maturing team and the ideas behind underlying this project.
File storage: the old fashioned way
Arweave’s project has been tested over the last several months and further developed within the TechStars accelerator. In fact, their mainnet will launch soon on June 8th. I discussed the problems of decentralized storage in my Phantasma ICO Review last week but let’s go over the pain points again. Exponential amounts of data is created year after year. To keep up with the petabytes of data the questions of where and how to handle it becomes important. Over the past few years, data storage has undergone a transformation from on-premise storage to cloud storage solutions. Vendors such as Amazon and Google offer storage products but these solutions are controlled by them and only them. While considered secure, customers rely that their data on the security offered by Amazon and Google. Customers move to these solutions because they might be cheaper than building a data center and setting up data warehouses themselves. Sometimes buying solutions is better than building it yourself.
But this existing system leaves much to be desired. Some may argue that the data is less secure because of the fact that a centralized company has the data. These central players become a choke point and a target for hackers. Some will also argue that centralized storage is expensive not in terms of price but in terms of the relinquished autonomy, future switching costs, and the potential change in access to data. With these problems in mind, decentralized storage may very well be the answer. Projects such as FileCoin, SiaCoin, Sharder, and now Arweave are trying to take on the decentralized storage problem.
- Ticker: AR, known as AR.cash
- Token Sales: The dates are not public but there will be a public sale prior to their mainnet launch on June 8th.
- Utility: payment for information to be permanently archived on the Arweave. These token payments are distributed as rewards to the ‘miners’ who choose to store and maintain the information on the Arweave.
- Token Type: AR is not an ERC20 token. It resides on its own chain and therefore will not be compatible with MEW and MyCrypto.
- 55m from genesis block and 11m for mining. Privacy and public sale details aren’t out yet
- Sam Williams, CEO, B.SC Computer Science from University of Nottingham and is a PhD candidate in CS from University of Kent. Contributions to 16 repositories in GitHub. Latest contributions to the Arweave GitHub was back in December of 2017. Other developers have contributed since then.
- William Jones, CTO, B.SC CS, Masters in CS, and is a PhD CS candidate all at the University of Kent
- India Raybould, Chief Coordinating Officer, quite frankly I do not know what this title even means
- Damon Sweeney, developer, currently an undergrad computer science student at the University of Kent
- Jon Sherry, developer, currently a PhD candidate of computer science at the University of Kent
- Jeremy Epstein, I’ve chatted with Jeremy once via LinkedIn. He’s also an advisor to a recently completed fundraising project called DaoStack. I reviewed that project here. He was also involved in advising prominent projects IOTA and ARK.
- Anthony Ryan, currently Head of Growth at Quantstamp, not much of a presence on LinkedIn
- Jespher Noehr, founder of upvest.co (access to private token sales), and software developer experience at Atlassian and Opera
- TechStars mentors:
Blockweave (Arweave’s Data Structure)
Blockweave is the name of the method/feature enabling nodes to join the network immediately. In contract to other blockchains, Arweave will give the option to nodes to either store the entire blockchain or a much smaller carrying load. Rather than a newly joined node having to sync the entire blockchain, it will only have to download the latest block. Inside the current block will be two new key innovations:
- Blockhash: a list of the hashes of all previous blocks. This will ultimately enable previous blocks to be validated more quickly since the overhead communication will be lessened.
- Wallet list: a list of all active wallets. By doing so, this will allow transactions to be verified without possessing the last transaction block.
These two innovations only work because Arweave aims to provide constant verification over the transactions. When new miners join they are essentially linking up to a presumably well oiled machine.
Proof of Access (Arweave’s Consensus Algorithm)
Arweave features a hybrid consensus mechanism. Proof-of-Work (PoW) combined with Proof-of-Access (PoA) allows miners to verify transactions and blocks quickly. You may already be familiar with PoW so let’s dive into PoA and how it works. Miners typically store the latest block and all prior blocks, best viewed as a chain (hence the blockchain). In Arweave, miners still store the latest block but only needs to store any one of the previous blocks. This lightens the data load for miners. On other blockchains storage becomes an issue as new blocks may be sent to miners who have run out of storage. Arweave solves this problem. The previous block is randomly selected and is known as a ‘recall block’. It is incorporated into the next block alongside the latest transactions. As in PoW, when a miner finds a correct hash it will broadcast the latest block to the rest of the network to verify.
Wildfire (Arweave’s Incentive Design)
In order to create a network of nodes to store data and provide access to it, Arweave has created its incentive system known as Wildfire. I love Game of Thrones references so let’s include a photo of Wildfire on that series.
Wildfire is ultimately a ranking system to aid in fast block creation and peer distribution. Think of this as uploading and downloading data. Nodes that provide great service in providing access to data (for free mind you) and that accept data from others receive a higher rank. Low ranking nodes will be removed from the network. Ultimately this leads to a meritocratic and honest system with a network topology optimized for fast and free data storage and retrieval.
Blockshadows (data communication and overhead)
As mentioned in the PoA system, other blockchains share the entire block and its underlying data to all nodes on the network. Bitcoin’s block size today is 1 MB and Bitcoin Cash just upped their block size to 32 MB. Larger block sizes slow down the network’s transmission rates but increases the number of transactions per block. This push and pull comes at the cost of potentially slowing down the time it takes to reach consensus. Arweave has a very clever set of names for its features, and so Blockshadows is introduced as a method to partially strip down the block’s information but still reach validation. Blockshadows will decouples transactions from the block by only sending a hash of the wallet list and a hash of the block hash list (discussed above in the Blockweave section). I wrote a small function quickly going over what a hashing function down below. Ultimately, rather than communicating enormous amounts of data around to each and every node, only a fraction is sent across the network. Arweave’s theoretical limit is 5,000 TPS over a 100 MBPS. Can’t tell you how refreshing it is not to hear “million TPS” from a project. I find this value much more honest.
Really quick and dirty hash function explanation
A hash is a data structure with two pieces of information: a key and a value. Let’s say that a key is your name, and the value is your phone number. The hash table creates an array of data that links the key and value together. The hash table can be thought of as a horizontal row of a crossword puzzle. The first box is labeled 0, and the second box is labeled 1, and the last box is labeled “last” – 1. Next, a hashing algorithm takes the key first and comes up with an index number (the number on the array/crossword puzzle box). Verifiers who know the key, in this case your name, the same result value will appear.
- Key: Jeff
- Value: 3110394857
- Hash(Jeff): result is index ‘3’
- Hash(George): result is index ‘2’
- Data array looks like this: (0): blank, (1): blank, (2): Jeff, (3): George.
- If a hashing function of another Key ‘collides’ with a value already stored then a ‘chain’ or a ‘linked list’ is connected to the data array slot that is already occupied.
Ultimately, a hash function is just a way to store and retrieve data.
Arweave in Action
Arweave announced at the end of March they are partnering with Charité, an esteemed research institute. The partnership will allow scientists to publish their scientific data into Arweave’s platform. The platform will make storing the data easy as well as incentivize the scientists to publish their data in the first place. Since Arweave’s data is a fully decentralized and immutable database the data will be accessible for future generations to study and replicate for their own purposes.
Just 9 days later, Arweave announced another partnership with a fellow TechStars member: Shelf.Network, an innovative decentralized auction house network. Arweave will store the large amounts of auction listing data. Arweave’s architecture is said to be able to handle large data sizes than other onchain storage options. The alternative is to store the data on a centralized database. That’s simply no fun and completely antithetical to the decentralization movement.
Overall, I’m bullish at the prospect that decentralized storage will be solved. Will Arweave be the team to finally crack that nut? Time will tell. Other projects such as FileCoin, SiaCoin, Storj, and Sharder are also taking this challenge on with their own approaches. Arweave’s team is highly connected to its community, expressive on Medium, and has one of the better whitepapers I have dissected. With that said, I thought it helpful to outline a few risk areas that are not just confined to Arweave but to the overall decentralized storage market. Using these questions help to more properly evaluate whether you should invest or not.
- Will submitting raw data sets require high effort
- Data formatting is a pain for developers, can automated data formatting be made easy
- Is the network fast? Will apps retrieve the content it needs to service information to its end users in a manner users are accustomed to
- Is the network resilient? Can it withstand several types of attacks such as 51% attacks against its hybrid consensus algorithm? Can it deal with miner collusion and the increased risk of becoming yet another centralized database?
- Will the utility token be subject to price manipulation and speculation, therefore ultimately a poor choice for apps to store their data on
I never try to get to high or too low on a project but want to make sure I put together an investment or speculation thesis that I think makes sense. Overall I lean positive on this project. The team is surrounded by competent technical and entrepreneurial advisors. Storage is a real problem in blockchain and the more projects that are trying new and innovative approaches should be welcomed into the space. Until I get my hands on the token metrics I will withhold a final verdict but my gut tells me this is a project to look out.
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