What is iExec RLC? A Beginner’s Guide to Decentralized Cloud Computing
Decentralized cloud computing sounds like a beautiful combination of buzzwords used to hype up a product, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, iExec has substance to back up the buzz, and if this is the first time you’ve heard about the project, that makes sense–the team isn’t big on hype.
As this guide’s title spells out, iExec is a platform for decentralized cloud computing, so think IBM or Microsoft cloud services but broken up into multiple nodes for off-chain computing of blockchain applications. It’s a similar concept to Golem (supercomputing) and Siacoin (cloud storage), except it’s using cloud services for computing, and its target audience is the blockchain realm itself and its budding ecosystem of dApps.
How does iExec Work?
Before we break down how iExec functions, it’d be useful to look at centralized cloud computing as it stands today.
Cloud computing has quickly become an industry standard for companies that want access to processing power without having to maintain the technological infrastructure. Companies like Netflix, Apple, Etsy, and Xerox, for instance, manage some (or all) of their applications and data with cloud computing from companies like Amazon, Google, IBM, or Microsoft.
The reason is simple: if these companies already have tens of thousands of servers to support data-intensive computations, why not outsource their processing power? Simply put, these services give businesses access to otherwise expensive resources.
iExec wants to provide the same service, but they want to decentralize it. The market for this industry, though, was $22.4bln in 2016, and it’s projected to reach $55bln by 2026. More or less, the big players have cemented themselves as reliable providers, so why would iExec try to disrupt an industry that seems set-in-stone?
They’re not trying to. Instead, they want to be for decentralized applications what popular cloud computing services are for legacy businesses: the one-stop resource for blockchain cloud computing.
You might be asking, why does blockchain need this? Glad you asked. There’s a brilliant article on the subject by Noam Levenson and Alex Price for Hackernoon on the subject. I’ll try to get you the succinct, TLDR reason. Basically, if any of the smart contracts built on Ethereum (or any dApp platform) want to function properly in real-world use, they’ll need access to more computing than the Ethereum virtual machine provides.
Ethereum’s virtual machine houses and executes smart contracts on the network’s nodes and mining programs. As dApps and smart contracts see adoption and widespread use, running all these computations through Ethereum’s blockchain would create a latency/scalability disaster of such magnitude that would render the network useless–just look at what a few million dollars worth of CryptoKitties did to Ethereum in a matter of days.
Essentially, iExec wants to create a network of computing resources that will allow the Ethereum ecosystem to scale to its potential in the future.
How Does iExec Work?
In order to support dApps, smart contracts, and their platforms, iExec wants to take processing-intensive computations off-chain so as to keep a blockchain’s on-chain functions running smoothly.
To do this, iExec makes use of XtremWeb-HEP, an open-sourced Desktop Grid Software. Desktop Grid computing (also known as Volunteer Computing) pools unused computing resources to be used by applications and platforms, and according to iExec’s whitepaper, XtremWeb-HEP “implements all the needed features” to make this possible on global scale, including “fault-tolerance, multi-applications, multi-users, hybrid public/private infrastructure, deployment of virtual images, data management, security and accountability, and many more.”
Essentially, with this software, dApps can utilize any computing resource in the iExec framework to run their programs. This means that developers and dApp users can commission processing power from a resource as small as a PC’s CPU to as large as server warehouses. Options will be flexible, scalable, and free-market driven, allowing users to find just the right amount of computing power for the task at hand.
iExec will accomplish this service matching using its smart contracts. The Matchmaking algorithm, for example, takes resource requests on the network and matches them with an appropriate provider. This smart contract basically looks at a dApps task and asks, “Can this computing resource run this program?” If yes, then it’s a match made in heaven. If not, then it’s time to move on (nothing personal).
In order to ensure that users are getting the resources they need, iExec will use a Proof of Contribution model. This consensus algorithm will make sure that a provider provisions the computational power needed by the user, and it will reward this provider with RLC, iExec’s token, in return for these services.
iExec’s Platform Components
Taking a step outside of the software and technicals, let’s take a look at the pieces that make up iExec’s platform. These include its marketplace, dApp store, and data marketplace.
Marketplace: The marketplace is iExec’s hub for providers and users to exchange RLC for computer resources. Through the marketplace, individuals/developers running dApps can shop for the resources tailored towards their application’s needs. As I mentioned earlier, iExec comes with a Matchmaking smart contract that ensures that no provider is biting off more than it can chew when committing its processing power to a contract. Moreover, a reputation smart contract manages a provider’s reliability. Think of this like a Yelp review for computing resources. This reputation system allows users to choose the level of reliability they want, paying less for a less reliable host if they so desire. Thus, the marketplace is free-market driven, and the more providers and users on it, the more competition will dictate pricing.
dApp Store: Finally, a decentralized equivalent to application stores. As its name suggests, the dApp store allows you to browse and purchase dApps that are built on or use iExec. And the cool thing is, the dApp store is live and already features applications you can purchase today. Additionally, application providers can also submit their dApps for listing on the platform.
Data Marketplace: This marketplace is to data what the dApp store is to applications. With it, data providers can sell their excess data to dApp providers or any other party willing to purchase it. Running the gamut from athlete stats to government consensus data, the sky’s the limit to what you could market on this platform. If someone is willing to buy it, you can use iExec to sell it. Unlike the dApp store (up and running) and Marketplace (set to release this year), the Data Marketplace is still in the conceptual stages of its development, so don’t expect it for some time yet.
iExec Team and What’s to Come
iExec’s core team consists of six PhDs, four of which have been working in cloud computing since the early 2000s.
These four, Gilles Fedak, Haiwu He, Oleg Lodygensky, and Mircea Mircea Moca, have experience working at INRIA and CNRS developing programs for Desktop Grid computing. iExec is the product of their collective experience, and after Gilles Fedak discovered Ethereum in 2016, the team found the solution to a problem they had been debating since 2012: how to create a distributed cloud based on Desktop Grid computing.
Thus, iExec was born, and the team has been making steady progress towards realizing their goal since. They maintain an active GitHub, updating it consistently with the open-sourced fruits of their labor, including iExec’s software development kit in November of 2017.
Most all of iExec’s v1 “Essential Edition” of its roadmap has been accomplished–all but its task smart contract deployment on the main net. Up next is the v2 “Market Network,” which will look to expand on the dApp store and launch the network’s Marketplace.
When this Marketplace is launched, iExec will also undergo a decentralization process, as all data/computing centers are currently under the control of iExec’s team for reasons of convenience.
The team will tackle V3-v5 in time, but most of these developments will come in the far future.
In their whitepaper, the iExec team lays out the project’s competitive landscape and explains these competitors in relation to iExec.
They’re quick to note that decentralized cloud storage providers like Filecoin, Storj, and Siacon are not direct competitors, and it’s easy to see why. While iExec could theoretically take a step in this direction as it matures, it’s not a storage platform; it’s a computing platform.
This does put it in competition with other decentralized computing protocols like Golem and SOMN. Both of these, however, are taking aim at a different animal. Essentially, they’re both building a decentralized supercomputer on blockchain technology, while iExec is targeting dApp development and sustainability. Both look towards a future of a blockchain-powered, decentralized internet, but their functions, while sometimes similar, are more complementary than conflicting.
iExec had a brief stint in the market cap top 100 before the crash, only to settle back down below this threshold during the bloodbath.
Where to Buy iExec
Bittrex, Binance, Upbit, and Bitfinex account for the majority of RLC’s trading volume. Each exchange sports BTC and ETH trading pairs, while you can also buy it directly with USD on Bitfinex.
Where to Store iExec
RLC is an ERC20 token, so an Ethereum compatible wallet will have you covered for storage, including MyEtherWallet, Nano Ledger S, Meta Mask, Exodus, Laxx, and imToken.
If iExec functions as intended, it could scale exponentially as more providers and computing resources join the network. This could open the door for scalability solutions, sustainable dApp support, and future blockchain adoption. It also provides a greener alternative to current cloud computing models, as resources are only used when they’re needed and in a less energy-intensive manner.
The project is certainly ambitious, but for what it’s worth, the iExec team has worked on successful projects before in the same vein. They helped to develop the European Desktop Grid Infrastructure, a series of 200,000 nodes that executed more than a million tasks using Desktop Grid computing. This project laid the foundation for iExec, while also demonstrating its feasibility.
We don’t know whether or not iExec will live up to its expectations, but we sure do have confidence that its team isn’t piddling around with this project. They have the experience, the brainpower, and the determination to see this project through, and for the future of blockchain, we hope they do. dApps and other platforms will need something like iExec if they want to survive in the working market, so here’s to hoping the best for the project moving forward.
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