Blockchain and Eating Cake: The Scalability Trilemma

Guest Author blog October 22, 2019

Blockchain and Eating Cake: The Scalability Trilemma

Balancing all of blockchain’s key features is difficult but should that even be the aim?

Can you have your cake and eat it too? This is the question that blockchain’s scalability trilemma asks and that Modex BCDB seeks to solve.

The scalability trilemma was first put forward by Vitalik Buterin, the founder of Ethereum, a cryptocurrency, and decentralized software system.

The trilemma goes as follows. Blockchain has three defining features that make it so appealing: decentralization, security, and scalability. The issue is the difficulty in doing all three in equal measure. While any two of the three features often combine nicely with each other, this necessarily means sacrificing a focus on the third feature. A trilemma indeed.

Image credit: Forbes

If blockchain is to be mass adopted, developers must first unpick this lock. Before looking at potential solutions, let us explore the problem in greater depth.

Pick your poison

Decentralization is the soul of blockchain and is measured in degrees, not absolutes. A blockchain can be more or less decentralized, but never simply decentralized or not. 

Greater decentralization means power is in the hands of people, which is what blockchain originally sought to achieve. It also means greater security because there is no single point of failure that can be targeted, as is the case with our current client-server models.

Decentralization and security may dovetail nicely with each other, but this leaves out scalability – increased decentralization compromises performance and speed and means disputes have to be solved by the community rather than a central moderator. A high degree of decentralization, and in turn security, also makes it more difficult to shut down a blockchain being used for malicious purposes, as there is no single point of failure.

Which brings us to security, the ability of the blockchain to defend against external attacks and internal tampering. Decentralization is not enough for blockchain to defend itself, as there are a host of potential threats: the 51% attack, where if someone holds over half the tokens they control the blockchain; the Sybil attack, where attackers create multiple identities to increase their ownership stake of the network and in turn control decision-making, or the Penny-spend attack, where an attacker spends very small sums into a very large number of accounts to waste the system’s storage and resources.

Greater security, then, has its obvious benefits. But a high degree of security, like a high degree of decentralization, compromise scalability. Performance and speed would be sacrificed to allocate the necessary power and resources to secure the system. No one wants to use an insecure system, but they also do not want to use a slow one.

Which in turn brings us to scalability, which is the number of users a network can support as well as the number and speed of transactions it can process.

Greater scalability means faster-operating speeds and higher volumes of transactions being processed. It also means the system is less likely to break down due to higher-than-expected user demand. But a higher degree of scalability will lead to a higher degree of security concerns. The bigger the network, the bigger the difficulty and cost in securing it.

There are a few potential solutions out there today. For example, some suggest adding ‘second-layer scalability solutions,’ also known as ‘off-chain solutions.’ This is where a second chain is added to the main blockchain, and on this second chain, transactions can be off-loaded to save space and decrease network congestion. Another solution some have suggested is focusing on streamlining the consensus reaching process to increase scalability and the rate of transaction processing.

Modex BCDB

The problem is not so much with blockchain, but rather how we are perceiving and using it. Blockchain is not a magic wand, to be used in the same way for different problems with the same miraculous result. Each situation and each company has different needs.

This is where Modex BCDB (Blockchain Database) comes in. We take a modular approach, breaking blockchain into smaller pieces – blocks if you will. We then create custom blockchain solutions specifically tailored to meet specific business requirements, and in turn, overcome the scalability trilemma. Instead of trying to achieve all three factors equally, we achieve what the client wants to achieve, and weight the three factors accordingly.

Modex BCDB is a middleware, meaning it fuses a blockchain with an existing database to create a new structure that is easy for developers to use and understand, even if they have no prior knowledge of blockchain. As long as the developer can work with the original database system, then they can work with Modex BCDB without needing to learn any additional skills. This simplifies and speeds up adoption.

With minimal changes, Modex BCDB can turn an ordinary database into a decentralized one. We do not delete existing databases or their data entries. Instead, the original database is kept intact and data integrity is ensured by storing the records’ metadata on the blockchain. Every company can maintain their preferred database and still connect to a blockchain-powered network. In other words, they really can have their cake and eat it.

 

 

 

About Author: Alin Iftemi is the Head of Modex, a blockchain company. A fully skilled programmer, he is the driving force behind the technological breakthrough platform designed for developers and enterprises engaged in the blockchain world. Passionate about artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, Alin is currently one of the guys who is working to adopt the blockchain revolution in the real life with real results. With almost 20 years work experience in big tech companies, he sees the future as a close relation between technology and people.

 

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Blockchain and Eating Cake: The Scalability Trilemma
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Blockchain and Eating Cake: The Scalability Trilemma
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