March 22, 2017
Blockchain’s star is rising. We must address 3 issues to unlock the full reward.
By: Guanyi Sun and Bin Xie

In recent years, blockchain has become an emerging technology star, carrying promise of breakthrough innovations across industries.

From its origins in the bitcoin digital currency, blockchain soon evolved into a “smart contract” with more complex, wider applications.

We believe blockchain in the next several years will become part of the infrastructure for more applications providing more extensive support for business.

However, before we reach that point, three critical issues must be addressed:

  1. Storage & Computing

    Traditional blockchain networks need to store all transaction blocks, from genesis to validation, and to trace all transactions.

    However, this requires a large amount of storage space for the full-function nodes in the network, which limits the number and types of nodes involved in the core functions of the blockchain.

    On the other hand, with the increase of the complexity of consensus algorithms, the computing performance of the core node is also increasing.

    For the storage problem, hierarchical storage can be used. The core nodes store the full amount of data, while lightweight client nodes save their own data only.

    In addition, the verified transaction blocks can be stored as snapshots in the cloud or other distributed, high-availability storage. This method is not suitable for private blockchain due to security considerations and the high cost of data transfer between private and public environment. Also, optimizations can be performed to enhance the basic operations in the blockchain.

    As for computing performance, the nodes in the network can be classified and the specific purposed computing hardware, such as GPU and FPGA, can be deployed in all core nodes to improve the computing ability.

    The client nodes in the network do not have to participate in the computing task. In fact, someone have used FPGA to get more powerful computing capability in bitcoin world.

  2. Throughput & Latency

    Blockchain network processing speed and throughput directly affect the overall performance of the system, and even determine the blockchain application scenarios.

    In the overall blockchain workflow, the consensus algorithm is the key factor in network throughput and latency.

    At present, the mainstream blockchain consensus algorithms generally cost from a few seconds to 10 minutes. With the popularity of the future blockchain applications and of the volume of transactions, throughput will become a bottleneck for the smooth conduct of transactions. Also, the consensus algorithms directly affect stability and security of the network.

    Although there are a variety of consensus algorithms to choose from, none can take into account the performance and safety requirements at the same time.

    As a result, it is necessary to select the appropriate consensus algorithm for the specific application scenarios and requirements.

    For example, some auxiliary chains can be added beside the main chain to carry out creditable, high-frequency micro-transactions, and to synchronize to the main chain regularly to maintain the data consistency.

    This solution needs basic trust among peers in one permissioned environment. In a relatively secure environment such as consortium chain or private chain, the system performance can be improved by reducing the security guarantee to a certain extent.

    For complex applications, a divide-and-conquer mechanism can be used to simplify the requirements or to improve the corresponding consensus algorithm.

  3. Safety & Supervision

    Because blockchain is a decentralized ledger system, resistance to tampering and a high degree of privacy protection are important features.

    However, since block-based applications need to operate within the legal framework, it is necessary to provide supervision mechanisms for the judiciary and other privileged functions.

    While blockchain is designed to build a completely decentralized network, it is not designed such a privilege monitoring mechanism.

    In addition, a user uses one or more hexadecimal addresses for identification purposes to participate in activities in a blockchain which can protect user privacy. In theory, regulators cannot determine the user's actual identity under this mechanism

    In order to introduce the necessary regulatory mechanisms into existing blockchain designs, a double-chain model should be introduced to ensure that all transactions are approved by the authority and the identity privacy is ensured at the user level.

    However, note that such an amending mechanism needs to address the abuse of privilege and security aspects of the problem.

    To address potential abuse of privilege, we can apply tracing and a check and balance mechanism to reduce risk.

    Introducing the privilege mechanism may lead to blockchain network weak points, so additional security mechanisms for these weak points are needed to ensure the stability of the entire blockchain.

    These suggested works are necessary for public blockchain to protect credibility, especially for systems where both ordinary users and large organizations participate at the same time (Accenture’s blockchain work includes a proposed editable blockchain architecture).

In Conclusion

Solving these three challenges—computing and storage; throughput and latency; security and supervision—helps promote the application of blockchain technology faster and better.

Establishing an open and credible platform based on blockchain promotes the production of new business models to improve the quality of life of ordinary people. This day is almost at hand.

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