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Blockchains could help create world’s biggest supercomputers
January 9, 2017, 4:54 pm

Many desktop computers, laptops, tablets and mobile devices usually stand idle for a huge portion of the day. Meanwhile, the need for computing resources is growing at a rapid pace with large Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystems, machine learning and deep learning algorithms and other sophisticated solutions raising the demand for stronger cloud servers and more bandwidth to address the minute needs of enterprises and businesses.

Blockchain, the distributed ledger that has gained traction across various domains, might have the answer to the dilemma by providing a platform that enables participants to lend and borrow computing resources — and make money in the process.

Compute resource sharing platforms such as SETI@home have existed for years. But they still depend on central brokers to distribute and manage tasks, which can make things complicated. However, one of the fields where centralized and cloud-based computing falls short is in IoT. As this field grows, the need for distributed computing becomes an absolute necessity.

IoT devices need to be able to trade computational resources with each other in real time so computational load needs to be distributed.

Over the last 10-20 years’ of progress in virtualization, setting up the needed environment in a data center or on an individual computer has become much easier. What is not so easy is the renting part where you pay for the hardware used.

Not only is it complicated to compare the offerings of different providers, it also takes quite a bit of time and expertise to figure out the best solution for a given task. The buyer has to check whether the vendor is actually performing the required computing work and also the payment has to be integrated so that the provider of the computing capacity knows that running the computations is going to be worth their time.

This is easy when you’re dealing with trusted entities such as the Amazon Web Services HPC platform, but not so when you are dealing with nodes that vary in hardware and power. A distributed network of computers managed by blockchain and smart contracts can create a shared economy where anyone with a computer can borrow idle computing power and make a side income.

The peer-to-peer nature of the blockchain and distributed ledgers will also help move computation closer to where the data is being generated, and avoid bottleneck round-trips to cloud servers. It will link buyers and sellers of compute time and allow them to pay themselves in crypto-currency such as Bitcoins without needing an intermediary.

The platform has the potential to reduce costs and increase speed in domains such as scientific research, machine learning and graphics rendering, while making it possible for anyone with an average or better computer to share resources and make a side income.

After submitting tasks to the blockchain platform network, requestors can be matched with providers based on prices, reputations and machine performance registered on the ledger. Resources are then sent to the provider for processing and are sent back after the task is completed. The provider is paid if the results pass verification tests. A user’s reputation is built-up based on their success in completing tasks and making payments.

The demand for computation will continue to grow as we move forward. Whether cloud servers will scale up to meet the requirements in resources, costs and speed is yet to be seen. In the meantime, the blockchain proposes an alternative that can open up new possibilities and succeed where previous technologies have failed.

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