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PureStake Announces Plans to Build Moonbeam on Kusama

Polkadot’s Canary Network Serves as a
Critical Pre-Launch Point for the New Platform

Boston, MA – June 23, 2020 – PureStake, a leader in secure and reliable blockchain infrastructure and tools, has announced plans to launch Moonbeam, an Ethereum-compatible smart contract platform, on Kusama prior to launching on the Polkadot network. By launching Moonbeam on Kusama, the cousin network to the Polkadot blockchain, PureStake will be able to experiment with the new platform on a fully-functional network and under real economic conditions before releasing it on the Polkadot mainnet.

PureStake has been active on Kusama since its launch last fall, providing secure and reliable validator services to other users and participants of the network. Known as the “canary” network for Polkadot, Kusama shares much of the same code as the Polkadot mainnet, which makes it a valuable proving ground and warning system for both technical and economic components of the project.

“The Web2-style, move-fast-and-break-things approach to software development doesn’t work in the cryptocurrency space,”  says Derek Yoo, CEO of PureStake. “Kusama helps us substantially de-risk changes and updates by running code under real economic conditions and creating a place where innovation and ideas can be worked out before they are brought to Polkadot mainnet.”

Moonbeam is currently in development and expected to be released as a parachain on the Kusama network later this year. 

Moonbeam’s Ethereum-compatible platform aims to ease the transition for non-blockchain developers and Ethereum developers alike as they explore the cross-chain integration capabilities of Polkadot and its underlying Substrate framework. You can learn more about Moonbeam on the official project website: https://moonbeam.network/

About PureStake

PureStake’s team has extensive experience building technology companies and complex software platforms. Led by Derek Yoo, former Fuze Founder and CTO, PureStake provides infrastructure services and creates developer tools for next-generation blockchain networks.

Multi-Chain as a Scalability Strategy: Leveraging Moonbeam for Ethereum-Based Deployments

In the past few months, we’ve received a number of questions about our relationship with Ethereum. I’d like to clarify something: Moonbeam is designed to complement and extend existing Ethereum-based deployments, not to compete with Ethereum.

In a multi-chain future, Ethereum will continue to occupy a central position, particularly around DeFi and related use cases. We expect its already significant developer and project traction to continue. At PureStake, we are personally big fans of the Ethereum ecosystem including its battle-tested developer tools, among many other things.

In this future, it’s difficult to imagine a world with only Ethereum, or only Bitcoin. Many other chains will co-exist with Ethereum, including Moonbeam and other chains on the Polkadot network. There won’t be a chain monopoly on a particular use case — there will be DeFi activity on chains other than Ethereum as well to serve the users and assets on those chains.

With this context, Moonbeam will be highly complementary to Ethereum, offering the ability for existing Ethereum-based projects to migrate some of their workloads and state off of Ethereum layer 1 to Moonbeam, while at the same time extending their reach to users and assets on other chains.

Moonbeam as an Alternative Ethereum Scaling Strategy

There are two main ways that Moonbeam can help existing Ethereum-based projects: it can alleviate scale and cost challenges, and it can help extend the reach of those projects to users in the growing Polkadot ecosystem. Moonbeam will be optimized for hybrid deployment scenarios, where some of a project’s transactions and state are migrated to Moonbeam while continuing to maintain key components on the Ethereum MainNet.

As existing projects consider their scaling strategy in the face of rising Ethereum costs (in some cases making use cases unviable), Moonbeam presents an alternative to rollup strategies such as ZK and optimistic, and sidechains such as OMG and Matic Network. Moonbeam can provide many of the same scalability benefits as these strategies, but requires far fewer changes in order to achieve them. Its faster blocktime also enables better responsiveness and more granular on-chain data, which is highly valuable in many use cases, particularly for oracle price data.

Moonbeam itself will have substantially more throughput (and, in turn, lower cost) based on its Proof of Stake-based approach when compared to Eth1 and its Proof of Work-based approach.  Since Moonbeam is a single shard environment, composability will work the same way it currently does on Eth1.

Using Parachains for Projects with High Scalability Demands

It’s important to note that Moonbeam is not the final destination for applications that need the highest degrees of scalability. Projects with very high scalability needs will migrate some or all of their backend to their own dedicated app-specific blockchain, where they will have full control over upgrades, governance, and have the ability to optimize the underlying storage and transaction implementations to their use case. This dedicated blockchain can also include the Ethereum compatibility components that Moonbeam uses to provide a dedicated EVM instance.

An app-specific blockchain represents the ultimate in scalability and control for a given workload, even if it comes with additional responsibilities such as the underlying runtime implementation, establishing a token economy, and incentivizing and building a node community. If these app-specific blockchains become parachains on the Polkadot network, they will be able to gradually relocate workloads and state from Moonbeam to their dedicated parachains, as needs dictate.

Moonbeam was very much designed for these upgrade and migration scenarios; its entire purpose is to serve as a way to reduce implementation friction, quickly scale to meet immediate needs, and provide an easy entry point to expand into Polkadot and chains connected to Polkadot. And whether projects are deployed on Moonbeam or as Polkadot-based parachains, Moonbeam can continue to be a place where integrations are done and where functionality from app-specific parachains on the network can be composed into higher-order functions before being presented to end users.

Features to Support This Hybrid Model

This focus on Ethereum compatibility and integration has informed the priority features for Moonbeam. These include:

  • Full EVM implementation based on Substate’s Pallet-EVM (which in turn is based on SputnikVM). This is needed to provide assurance that existing Solidity contracts will have the same execution behavior as they do on Ethereum.
  • Web3 RPC compatibility which means that change will be minimized for existing DApp frontends, and that you can use existing Ethereum development tools such as Truffle, Remix, and MetaMask. We are already working with Parity to implement this as part of the Frontier project.
  • A bridge that allows movement of tokens and state between Ethereum and Moonbeam. This is needed to support the hybrid deployment model with a partial movement of logic, workload, and state to Moonbeam.

In the longer term, once XCMP and SPREE are available on the Relay Chain, we will introduce new operations that provide easy developer access to Polkadot’s cross-chain integration functionality from an Ethereum-compatible environment. These features will extend the reach of existing Ethereum projects to other Polkadot parachains and even other sovereign chains that are bridged to Polkadot.

To learn more about testing your Ethereum-based project on Moonbeam, please contact us. You can also join our Riot room or sign up for the monthly Moonbeam Dispatch to be notified when a testing environment is available.

How Spaghetti Sauce Can Help Us Identify the Best Blockchain

I heard Malcolm Gladwell tell a story about spaghetti sauce in a TED talk back in 2004 and it’s one of those stories that has stuck with me and that I still think about from time to time. The story has become somewhat well known to marketeers who are drawn to its conclusions about horizontal customer segmentation, and Gladwell himself uses it to reach conclusions about human choice and happiness. For me, the story makes an important philosophical point about ideals and the importance of asking the right question but using a very easy to understand and relatable scenario.

The Pursuit of a Perfect Pepsi

The story goes like this. In the 1970s, there was a man named Howard Moskowitz who worked as a consultant to the food industry. Howard was in the business of measuring things. One of his early clients was Pepsi, who came to him for help determining the right amount of aspartame to put in their new Diet Pepsi drink. To answer this question, Howard created batches of Diet Pepsi with different amounts of the sweetener. He ran a large number of tests with people from all over the country and recorded their feedback.

When he tabulated the data from these tests, he was expecting to find a data cluster around a value, a normal distribution of data points that would reveal what the answer to the question was. Instead, what he got back was a kind of mess — there was no single point around which everyone’s preferences were clustered. These results weren’t surprising to people at the time, who thought that data sometimes wasn’t good at answering questions like this.

But Howard was a man of high intellectual standards and the result bothered him. He thought about this problem for years afterwards until one day the answer suddenly came to him: it wasn’t the data or the method that was wrong, it was the question that was wrong. They were looking for the perfect Diet Pepsi, but they should have been looking for the perfect Diet Pepsis. What?? Howard went around telling everyone that would listen that he had figured out something important, but people at the time largely had no clue what he was talking about.

Prego Road Show

Later, when Campbells hired him to improve the formulation of their Prego spaghetti sauce, he was ready. Howard approached this problem by creating a huge variety of test sauces that varied across many dimensions including spiciness, garlic, the amount of visible solids, etc. He came up with 45 different sauces and then went on the road to test all these formulations with people all over the US.

He collected a huge amount of data and when he went to analyze the data, he didn’t look for a single point that was the best fit point, but instead looked for clusters of interest.

What he found was there were significant clusters around a few different formulations: mild, spicy, and chunky. Of these, the chunky finding was the most significant as it ran contrary to the prevailing idea at the time about what spaghetti sauce should look like. Traditional sauce was supposed to be thin and without visible solids.

Campbells came out with a chunky line of sauces based on Howard’s research, and they went on to make $600M dollars from this line of sauces over the next 10 years. And if you go into any grocery store now, you can see the impact of Howard’s line of thinking. Whereas in the 70s you had one kind of sauce, one kind of pickle, one kind of mustard, now there are dozens of different kinds with many different formulations to suit different people and different tastes. A real revolution in product variety and consumer choice.

So Why Do I Tell This Story?

The key point in this story for me is the following: when people thought about Pepsi and spaghetti sauce, they assumed that there was a single best version. A kind of platonic ideal of what that thing should be. And it was the job of the company making that thing to figure out how to get as close as possible to that ideal.

This just turns out to be totally wrong. There is no ideal version of these things. There is no single best formulation. The reality is that different versions may be the best for different people and different circumstances.

And here is the power of this story. Once you get tuned into this, you realize that this spectre of the platonic ideal is everywhere. Who is the best programmer? What is the best city to live in? How do people best learn? What is the best blockchain? Just asking the question in this way already unhelpfully frames things. It assumes there is a perfect or best version, limiting the imagination and sending your thinking down the wrong path.

Applying This to Blockchains

When it comes to blockchains, I think of this whenever I hear things like: “Our design is the best because we have the most transactions per second,” “…because we have the best governance system,” “…because we are the most decentralized,” etc. It can take subtler forms like: what are the correct design tradeoffs to make when building a blockchain? Where is the best point to be in the blockchain trilemma triangle? The question assumes that there is a single best or ideal blockchain. When I hear these questions I want to say, “Best for whom? Best for what purpose? Best from what perspective?”

While I’m sure the designers of Polkadot weren’t thinking of spaghetti sauce, it strikes me that they were very aware of the dangers of this line of thinking and that they built a recognition of this danger into the design of the system. The very idea of Substrate as a framework to build blockchains already recognizes that one size doesn’t fit all. We already see a large variety of different blockchains being built on Substrate and I expect that number to grow.

And in its implementation, Substrate is very conscientious and careful about the increasing degrees of opinionation that come along with the core, frame, and node usage patterns. As for Polkadot, it doesn’t force uniformity on its parachains, allowing them to specialize to meet the needs of their specific users and use cases. It tries very hard to not universally assume what is good or best.

This acknowledgment that there is no one right way, no ideal of what a blockchain should be, is one of the reasons I am drawn to Polkadot, and one of the reasons I believe in the design of the system. Ultimately this ability for chains to adapt and specialize while at the same time interoperating to leverage each other’s specialization, will be keys to Polkadot’s long term competitive advantage.

The answer to the question “What is the best blockchain?” turns out to be the wrong question to be asking. Taking a page from Howard Moskowitz, the question should be “What are the best blockchains?”

The answer is that there could be as many “best” blockchains as there are different user communities and use cases. I expect a large number of blockchains to emerge over time to address different types of needs, and to specialize for different kinds of purposes. I think most of these needs and purposes are things we aren’t even thinking of yet.

But whatever they end up being, builders are going to take a practical approach. They will use a framework like Substrate to accelerate their development efforts, and they will attach to a network like Polkadot to broaden their reach to the users, assets, and specialized services of other blockchains.

Moonbeam Smart Contracts for Polkadot

Moonbeam: A Smart Contract Parachain with Ethereum Compatibility

We announced Moonbeam today, a smart contract platform that provides a scalable and accessible alternative to other developer platform options.

Moonbeam aims to provide developers with the ability to port existing Ethereum DApps or to create new DApps using familiar Ethereum development tools. This will substantially decrease the barrier to entry for successful Ethereum DApps that want to move to a more performant and cost-effective platform. Since Moonbeam is based on Substrate, the blockchain development framework from Parity Technologies, we are able to create a native Ethereum execution environment that provides Web3 RPC and EVM implementations to support most Ethereum DApps without significant modification. Moonbeam’s scalability and security is derived from running under Polkadot’s sharded design and shared security umbrella.

As a parachain on the Polkadot network, Moonbeam will also enable a number of interoperability scenarios, including integration with other chains to provide services such as Oracles, DEXes, and token transfers from chains such as Bitcoin and Ethereum.

Why We Decided to Build Moonbeam

We started last year as a validator on the Kusama network. Since then, we have engaged with the community, the technology, and the emerging ecosystem of tools and services. During this evolution of our engagement with Polkadot, we realized that an accessible smart contract parachain would fill a strategic need within the Polkadot ecosystem.

The primary development framework for building applications on Polkadot is the Rust-based Substrate framework. Substrate is very powerful, but it also is quite complex, where DApp developers need to account for things like how to incentivize node operators, how the resultant chain will be governed, and what the underlying token economics looks like. For some projects, it will make sense to use Substrate to build a full parachain or parathread. But for many others, a smart contract backend will be much easier and make more sense as a starting point.

By making it easier to create and migrate DApps to Polkadot, we believe we can help existing projects address the scalability challenges they are facing today. At the same time, we want to enable new cross-chain interoperability use cases — based on Polkadot — that will extend each developer’s ability to reach new users and assets. As more and more app-specific blockchains are developed to solve problems in a scalable way, this extension of developers’ reach to work with users and tokens on remote chains will be increasingly needed.

Our Focus on Ethereum Compatibility

This is a strategy motivated by practicality. Getting traction for a new developer platform is a numbers game. By providing Ethereum compatibility, we give ourselves access to the largest market of existing blockchain developers. It also allows us to leverage the relatively mature ecosystem of tools that exist in the Ethereum ecosystem such as Truffle and MetaMask.

There are also many Ethereum-based projects today that are facing serious scalability challenges due to the expense and constraints of the network. We have had conversations with projects that are considering a variety of strategies including Layer 2 solutions such as Plasma and ZK-Rollups, sidechain solutions, and also porting to other more scalable platforms. There are pros and cons to each of these strategies. The key friction in porting to another platform lies in all of the work that is required: project developers would need to reimplement existing Solidity backend contracts and DApp front ends using an entirely different technology stack, thus losing most of the valuable work they have already done. We believe that offering Ethereum compatibility on Moonbeam will greatly reduce this friction, and thus increase the attractiveness of the porting option.

Moonbeam Longer Term Vision

While our near-term energy is focused on implementing Ethereum compatibility and other base functionality on Moonbeam, we are very excited about supporting cross-chain interoperability scenarios. As XCMP, SPREE and other interoperability protocols are enabled on the Polkadot relay chain to power cross-chain token movement and remote chain RPC-like functionality, we will be actively adding integrations to other parachains into Moonbeam.

We anticipate that parachains on Polkadot will be purpose-built chains that provide specific functionality to the network and to their users. We envision that Moonbeam can serve as a simple and accessible place for these different parachain functionalities to be composed and combined into novel forms.

Naturally, this will position Moonbeam as an experimentation ground for building new applications that leverage Polkadot’s interoperability and shared security. If applications built on Moonbeam need more direct control over their resources and economy over time, they can always upgrade to a full parachain or parathread. This migration, if necessary, can be done using a gradual and co-existent approach, minimizing risk and providing project developers with multiple roadmap options.

Interested in Learning More?

We want to engage with you as we build out the Moonbeam ecosystem.  We’re actively seeking:

  • Substrate/Rust developers
  • Node operators interested in running collators

We’d also love to hear from:

  • Polkadot projects who are interested in collaborating
  • Ethereum projects that could benefit from Moonbeam

To learn more about the Moonbeam smart contract parachain, visit the project website or tune into my Sub0 talk (which will be focused on the technology).

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PureStake Announces Moonbeam, a Smart Contract Platform for the Polkadot Network

Moonbeam Allows Developers To Use Their Existing
Ethereum Applications And Smart Contracts On Polkadot

Boston, MA – April 27, 2020 – PureStake, a leader in secure and reliable blockchain infrastructure and tools, today announced plans for the Moonbeam smart contract platform. Due later this year, Moonbeam expands the accessibility of smart contract functionality by providing Ethereum compatibility and making it easier for developers to build applications that are natively interoperable with other blockchains and technologies.

Moonbeam will be released as a parachain on the upcoming Polkadot network, which is set to launch later this year. As a parachain — Polkadot’s approach to sharding — Moonbeam will benefit from shared security and composability with the entire Polkadot network while operating and developing independently. This also enables users of the Moonbeam network to move cryptocurrencies and other tokens natively across Polkadot parachains and parathreads, or across other networks via bridges.

“On Moonbeam, developers will be able to build applications that work with users and assets from other chains,” says Derek Yoo, CEO of PureStake. “This is a huge step forward in creating decentralized applications that natively interoperate across chains — opening up new potential markets for DApp developers.”

The Moonbeam network features several differentiators centered on promoting accessibility and interoperability across chains:

  • Smart contracts that work natively with other Polkadot chains or connect to external chains, like Ethereum and Bitcoin, via bridges.
  • Web3 and EVM support that makes it easy for existing Ethereum DApps and smart contract backends to migrate to Moonbeam and Polkadot.
  • Compatibility with familiar Ethereum development tools such as Truffle and MetaMask.

Moonbeam provides an essential service for the Polkadot network, which does not natively include smart contracts. Moonbeam smart contracts make it much easier and cheaper to build decentralized finance applications, which helps developers globally solve real-world finance problems using Web 3.0 technologies.

“Moonbeam’s approach promises to democratize the world of smart contract platforms in a way we haven’t seen before,” said Dieter Fishbein, Head of Ecosystem Development at Web3 Foundation. “Platforms that make it easier for developers to leverage the work they have across networks is core to Polkadot’s future and to the success of decentralized technologies as a whole.”

Visit the Moonbeam website for more information and updates: https://moonbeam.network/

About PureStake

PureStake’s team has extensive experience building technology companies and complex software platforms. Led by Derek Yoo, former Fuze Founder and CTO, PureStake provides infrastructure services and creates developer tools for next-generation blockchain networks.

Polkadot vs Ethereum Comparison Blog Banner

Choosing a Platform: A Comparison of Ethereum vs Polkadot

Polkadot is one of the most highly-anticipated next-generation, developer-focused blockchains. This comparison with Ethereum, the most widely adopted developer-oriented chain, is meant to help newcomers to the networks understand the differences between the two, and may help developers choose which one to build on.

At a high level, the two projects are only partially overlapping. Ethereum is a platform for deploying smart contracts, or pieces of logic that control the movement of native assets or state on the single Ethereum chain. In contrast, Polkadot aims to provide a framework for building your own blockchain and an ability to connect different blockchains with each other. Despite these differences, both platforms are designed for developers to build decentralized applications.

Despite Similarities, Very Different Strengths

In terms of similarities, both Ethereum and Polkadot aim to provide a space where developers can create decentralized applications. Both platforms include smart contract functionality, based on Solidity for Ethereum and Ink! for Polkadot. If we look forward to Ethereum 2.0, both platforms are pursuing a scaling strategy based on parallelized execution. Each thread of execution is called a shard in Ethereum 2.0, and a parachain or parathread in Polkadot. Both Ethereum 2.0 and Polkadot will use Wasm as an underlying technology to power on-chain logic and state transitions.

There are, however, important differences between Ethereum and Polkadot.

One of the biggest differences is design goals. Ethereum aims to be a platform for distributed finance and smart contract execution, whereas Polkadot has a vision of helping people build entire blockchains and integrating these blockchains with each other.

I have attempted to summarize what I consider some key points of difference below:

Ethereum 1.0 Ethereum 2.0 Polkadot
Architecture Single chain Multiple chains (shards) Multiple chains (parachains, parathreads)
Backend Development Solidity (JavaScript-like), Vyper (Python-like) Solidity (JavaScript-like), Vyper (Python-like) Rust, Substrate Framework
Execution Environment Single VM Multiple homogenous shards Multiple heterogeneous parachains
Composability Smart contracts can call each other synchronously Smart contracts can call each other synchronously in the same shard, or asynchronously between shards Smart contracts can call each other synchronously in the same parachain, or asynchronously across parachains
Governance Off chain Off chain On chain (e.g. Democracy, Council, Treasury modules)
Consensus Mechanism Ethash Proof of Work Casper Proof of Stake BABE/GRANDPA Proof of Stake
Program Execution Fees Per-call gas/metering-based Per-call gas/metering-based Market cost for parachain slot with unlimited usage or per-call parathread fee
Status (as of Nov 2019) Live since 2015 Will be released in phased milestones through 2021 MainNet launch expected in Q1 2020

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Ethereum: Large & Thriving, But Hitting Scalability Challenges

Ethereum’s key strength is its large and established ecosystem of developers, users, and businesses including its rich set of developer tools, tutorials, etc. It already enjoys significant network effects from this ecosystem, making it the de-facto smart contract platform to develop on. Ethereum standards, in many cases, become industry standards such as ERC-20.

The value of the Ethereum network is similarly significant, providing a high degree of economic security based on the value of the underlying Ether token. The DeFi space, which is one of the areas in the crypto space with the most developer traction, is largely built on Ethereum and leverages the composability between different Ethereum smart contracts that can call each other in the single Ethereum virtual machine that powers Ethereum 1.0.

The key challenge facing Ethereum is scalability. The success of the CryptoKitties application demonstrated some of the scalability limits that affect Ethereum 1.0. One popular application was able to significantly degrade the performance and throughput of transactions on the network.

Another challenge is the gas cost required to run smart contracts on the platform. Gas fees are required for the security of the system overall, and to protect the system from being stalled by runaway programs. But as the value of Ether has risen, gas fees for running smart contracts has also risen and has made certain use cases prohibitively expensive. These costs tie back to scalability, because if there were more capacity, the fees for each transaction could be lowered.

Ethereum 2.0 aims to solve all of these scalability issues, but it is multi-year roadmap with the execution risk that comes with a multiyear re-platforming initiative. Most of the Ethereum core dev energy is going into Ethereum 2.0, which leaves not much in the way of upgrades and improvements in the existing Ethereum 1.0 chain.

Polkadot: Built on a Flexible Framework, But It’s New and Unproven

Polkadot’s greatest strength is Substrate. Substrate is a development framework for creating Polkadot-compatible blockchains, offering different levels of abstraction depending on developer needs. Polkadot is itself built using Substrate. It dramatically reduces the time, energy, and money required to create a new blockchain.

Substrate provides a much larger canvas for developers to experiment on, as compared to smart contract platforms like Ethereum. It allows for full control of the underlying storage, consensus, economics, and state transition rules of the blockchain, things which you generally cannot modify on a standard smart contract platform.

The design of Polkadot — which allows for shared security within its network — is another strength. Shared security has 2 key benefits.

First, it reduces the burden on parachain builders by providing security-as-a-service from the relay chain. This is different than the approach taken by other networks such as Cosmos, where each zone is fully responsible for its own security. This shared security simplification lowers friction for builders and simplifies the process of launching a new parachain.

Second, shared security provides a framework for parachains to talk to each other, which ultimately allow will parachains to specialize. It reminds me of the old Unix philosophy, where you create tools that do one job and do it well. Then you can achieve higher order goals by combining these purpose-built tools together. I can see something similar happening in the Polkadot ecosystem. This is the power of the Polkadot design that should create strong network effects on the network.

To mirror the old real estate saying, the top three challenges for Polkadot are in my mind are: adoption, adoption, and adoption. Ethereum has a dominant position and the largest developer community of any developer-oriented platform. Further, there are a lot of new platforms coming to market that are looking to compete with Ethereum and gain developer mindshare.

At present, there are only so many developers to go around. We are in a situation where there are more developer platforms than there are developers to support and build on them. The real challenge for Polkadot is getting enough traction and building enough of an ecosystem and developer community for the network effects of their architecture to start to kick in.

How to Choose

In summary, if you are a developer researching these two platforms for your decentralized application, it is a little bit of an apples-and-oranges comparison.

Building on Ethereum is a safe choice and makes sense if your application can be expressed easily as a smart contract, if your use case is affordable in terms of gas fees, if you don’t need a large amount of transaction throughput or control over the underlying economics of your system, or if you need interoperability with other Ethereum ecosystem projects at launch. Development on Ethereum is generally going to be simpler than Polkadot.

If on the other hand, your application is best served by a dedicated blockchain, if it needs higher transaction throughput performance, if you want full control of the environment, state transition function, storage, and economics that your application runs under, and if you are okay with higher implementation complexity, or have use cases that require integration across blockchains, Polkadot will satisfy these requirements.

Have KSMs on Kusama? Nominate PureStake via This Address:

GhoRyTGK583sJec8aSiyyJCsP2PQXJ2RK7iPGUjLtuX8XCn

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11 Days Validating on Kusama: First Impressions & Emerging Power Dynamics

It has been 11 days since we joined the active validator set for Kusama, and I wanted to share some initial thoughts on the experience in case this is helpful to other validators, nominators, or other participants thinking about engaging with Kusama or Polkadot.

The first impression to convey is that interest in Kusama and Polkadot is high. Currently there are 140 validators that have signaled their intent to validate. Since Kusama switched from PoA to PoS thus switching block production from a limited set of Web3 Foundation-run validators to a decentralized set of validators, the number of validator slots has incrementally increased from 20 to 50, 60, 75, and currently stands at 100. At no time have there been any empty slots and there are currently 40 validators waiting for an opportunity to validate.

This stands in contrast to many other projects that have struggled to recruit enough competent validators to launch their networks. This is a really good sign for Polkadot as they near their MainNet launch.

Parity Team Actively Addresses Bumps in the Road

The process of launching Kusama has and continues to flush out issues.

There have been several point releases: 0.6.7, 0.6.8, 0.6.9, including an issue with 0.6.8 that led to database corruption for some validators. There are performance issues actively being worked on now, which will undoubtedly lead to more releases. Some validators have been slashed or removed from the active set, either due to issues with the software or a failure to run nodes properly.

However, the number of issues has really been relatively small. In each case, the Parity team has been very responsive in diagnosing and fixing issues. All things considered, for a system as complex as Kusama, this has been a very smooth launch process.

Two Primary Types of Validators

The validators in the active set are ones that meet the minimum effective staked KSM levels needed to be in the top 100.

Many of these appear to be representing DOT holders who could claim KSM based on their DOT holdings and thus, have large bonded amounts. I’m inferring this from the fact that transfers are not yet enabled, so large positions would have to come from claimed KSM.

The other set of validators are those that are not existing DOT holders and received KSM grants from W3F to be able to validate. The grants were 10 KSM, so I’m assuming that many validators with bond amounts less than 10 KSM are likely in this bucket. Many of these validators have received nominations, presumably from W3F and possibly others, to get into the active set.

There hasn’t been enough time for validators to really start to market themselves to try to attract nominations. This will presumably start to happen as the Kusama launch process continues to unfold, transfers are enabled, and the validator limit is potentially raised further.

LEARN MORE ABOUT STAKING ON KUSAMA WITH PURESTAKE

NPoS Validator Strategies

While it is too early to tell what strategies validators will use to go to market, there is one notable strategy that has emerged: the “sprawl” strategy.

Cryptium Labs is currently running 19 of the 100 validators in the active set. This is far more than anyone else on the network at this time. In NPoS (Nominated Proof of Stake) this is not only allowed, but perhaps expected. Given the fact that validators are compensated a flat fee for their service, running as many validators as can get into the active set is an economically rational validator strategy.

However, for some, the realization that large players could occupy may of the available slots was disheartening. Here is an exchange from the Riot rooms (where most of the discussions are happening) that illustrates the sentiment:

Fredy from DragonStake started with:

@derfredy:matrix.org

I wonder how the core ( Gav Bill | W3F federico … ) feel about the current adrianbrink | Cryptium Labs sybil attack.

Once we enable the TXs, the whole slots table could be filled with just 2 or 3 independent validators teams. Any concern?

Adrian from Cryptium Labs was quick to respond:

adrianbrink | Cryptium Labs

[snip…] public blockchains need to be designed so that they are secure against rational actors. Security based on altruism isn’t going to last long.
Btw, I’m not suggesting that Polkadot consensus is insecure. Maybe there needs to be more education about it though

And finally from Gavin:

Gav

i think it’s reasonable for w3f to use its KSM to keep the validator community pluralistic.

[snip…]

w3f has its funds;
w3f should act in whatever way it feels is best for the network;
having an active validator community with well-dispersed knowledge is good for kusama;
w3f should use some of its funds to help keep lesser staked validators of high reputation engaged.

This short exchange cuts right to the heart of some of the interesting ideas and dynamics around NPoS and how it will play out. Some good questions that this exchange raises: Will the NPoS design ultimately favor a smaller set of larger validators occupying multiple slots, or will it drive greater validator diversity? Is there such a thing as economically rational behavior that conforms to the protocol, but that nevertheless should be sanctioned or discouraged by social norms and convention?

NPoS is meant to be an improvement over standard DPoS in networks like Cosmos or Tezos. Its design does appear to be intended to discourage or prevent the concentration of stake behind any one validator, as doing this would lead to less staking returns for rationally-motivated nominators.

It is also meaningfully different from standard DPoS (Delegated Proof of Stake) because it has a separation between political power and validator services. This could guard against scenarios where, for example, validators are run for free to gather political power, as appears to be the case with the largest Cosmos validator. Many feel this leads to a weaker validator set, as it becomes difficult to fund legitimate validator businesses.

But if validator power can still be expressed in NPOS by allowing organizations or entities to have more than one — or perhaps dozens — of validators, it seems that some of the decentralization benefit of NPoS may not be as great as many believed would be the case.

I sympathize with Fredy from DragonStake’s point of view that the health of the network is greater with a more diverse set of validators, and that smaller validators shouldn’t have to rely on the goodwill of the W3F to have a shot at making it into the active set. And while W3F’s commitment to validator diversity is admirable, I also agree with Adrian from Cryptium Labs that what happens on these platforms is largely determined by the actions of rational economic actors playing by the rules codified in the protocol. Even if you have a set of social norms you try to enforce in your community, the permissionless nature of these systems means that someone can always come along and ignore your community and norms and do anything that the protocol allows.

It is always hard to predict how these systems will play out. But it seems likely that larger and better-established validator companies will pursue a Cryptium-style strategy on Polkadot. We may not see this yet, as they don’t want to tip their hand or take on the infrastructure expense on Kusama where the opportunity for profit is not possible. It will be interesting to see if, in the end, there is more or less validator diversity in Polkadot with NPoS versus Cosmos, Tezos, and other networks employing the simpler DPoS mechanism.

Decentralized Networks Are Magic

In the end, what has happened over the last 10 days demonstrates the magic of these new decentralized platforms. Probably something on the order of 100 organizations or people from different backgrounds, locations, skills all came to the table with complicated setups of software and infrastructure to help launch and support a network.

This network is something larger than any one participant could have created and wouldn’t be possible without the contributions of all of the participants. I can think of no better example of the power of platforms like Polkadot to organize people and activity in ways that weren’t previously possible, to allow anyone to join, to compensate the participants for their contributions, and to create something emergent and higher order as a result.

Keep an eye out as transfers will be enabled on Kusama soon, and I expect further shifts of stake and in the active validator set once that happens. Also feel free to leave me feedback on Riot if you agree (or disagree) with anything in this post: @mechanicalwatch:matrix.org.

Interested in staking with PureStake on Kusama? Nominate this address:

GhoRyTGK583sJec8aSiyyJCsP2PQXJ2RK7iPGUjLtuX8XCn

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Here Are the 4 Factors That Convinced Us to Become a Polkadot Validator

We have spent the last several months researching existing and soon-to-be-launched public blockchains, and we have come to the conclusion that Polkadot is an extremely ambitious and interesting project. Many teams are already building projects to be ready by the time the MainNet launches.

Given PureStake’s infrastructure and DevOps expertise as a company, the obvious way for us to engage is as a validator helping to secure the network. From there, we may expand to additional services within the Polkadot ecosystem.

This post will go into some of the rationale that led us to this decision. One of the most important points that influenced us is that the Polkadot vision aligns well with our vision of a multichain future. We also think that developer adoption is key to the success of next generation chains, and Polkadot is well positioned in this regard.

How Polkadot is Different

Too many chains are trying to do everything and be good at everything. The idea of blockchains that can talk to each other opens the door for specialization. Much like the unix philosophy, individual Polkadot parachains can focus on doing one thing and doing it well. And larger effects can be achieved through composability of different components.

Polkadot has an ability to accelerate innovation by significantly reducing the barriers to blockchain development and allowing a rich ground for experimentation. The Polkadot MainNet launch is fast approaching and we are excited to provide secure and reliable validation services for the network. What follows are the reasons we choose Polkadot over all the other networks out there.

Top 4 Reasons PureStake is Validating on Polkadot

Reason #1: Formidable Ecosystem & Leadership

Even though Polkadot hasn’t launched yet, they have already amassed an impressive ecosystem of notable developers, validators, partners, and projects, not least of which is Parity itself.

In addition to leading the development of Polkadot, Parity has a strong history and track record of delivering crypto infrastructure projects at production-grade performance and quality levels. The Parity Ethereum client is currently supporting a large part of the production Ethereum MainNet, and thus already supporting billions of dollars of crypto value. The Parity team, including Gavin Wood, are very close to Ethereum and familiar with all of its shortcomings; as a result, they are well-positioned to address Ethereum’s critical scalability challenges with Polkadot.

While Polkadot obviously has not yet built a community the size of the Ethereum’s, it has already generated tons of information, documentation, chat groups activity, and videos that make it relatively easy for newcomers to get up-to-speed.

At the launch of the Polkadot MainNet, they will have substantial scalability and programmability advantages over Ethereum 1.0. Until Ethereum 2.0 becomes a reality, Polkadot seems well-positioned to gain developer traction, including by stealing away some market share from Ethereum.

Reason #2: Flexible Underlying Framework (Substrate)

Polkadot is built on Substrate, an impressive developer framework that can be used to build a Polkadot-compatible blockchain. Substrate is a very powerful framework for developing blockchain applications and it provides a lot of choices to developers who are looking to build a decentralized applications.

If you want full control over your blockchain, you can use Substrate Core to build an application-specific blockchain that won’t even be part of the Polkadot network. Developing a blockchain this way will be much faster than rolling your own, as it handles many of the low-level subsystems that you will need out-of-the-box.

Substrate gives you flexibility, though. Rather than using Substrate Core, you could pull from the SMRL library of modules to plug in already-developed functionality for things like accounts and balances, fungible tokens, consensus mechanisms, and smart contract functionality. Alternatively, you could opt for the highest level of abstraction, Substrate Node, to get up-and-running with a custom blockchain very quickly and efficiently.

The quality and functionality of Substrate will almost certainly help draw developers in and spur adoption of Polkadot.

Reason #3: Scalable Design

Polkadot implements a Proof of Stake-based consensus mechanism on its main relay chain that uses a scheme called Nominated Proof of Stake. Proof of Stake-based consensus mechanisms offer several significant advantages over Proof of Work and other consensus algorithms, including scalability.

Right now, on the Polkadot Alexander TestNet, blocks are being produced roughly every 6 seconds. This is significantly faster than Ethereum (which is currently producing blocks every 13-13.5 seconds) and provides a scalable foundation for the rest of the system.

Another way that Polkadot achieves scalability is by parallelizing execution using parachains. Each parachain can have its own blockchain, and each of these parachains connects back to the main relay chain. By parallelizing execution into many parachains, Polkadot will inherently be much more scalable than a single chain network like Ethereum — at least until Ethereum 2.0 and its very similar concept of shards is realized.

Parachains will allow for more transaction throughput through parallelization, but separating transactions into different parachains also can provide economic scalability. Developers of applications occupying parachain slots have control over the economics of transactions. They have the ability to make certain classes of transactions less expensive, or perhaps even free, as opposed to a single economic model that is in use on more traditional single blockchain systems. This will allow developers to optimize their applications on Polkadot to achieve cost scalability when deployed.

Reason #4: Solid Security Posture

There are many parts of the Polkadot design that provide compelling security advantages, but there are two examples that stand out.

Stash Accounts and Controller Accounts

In our experience running crypto infrastructure at PureStake, a lot of time is spent worrying about key security, particularly keys that need to be warm or hot and online, versus cold and offline.

For a Polkadot validator, there are three different types of accounts and keys involved in the setup: a stash account, a controller account, and a session account. The stash account can be totally cold and offline — where you keep your funds. The controller account is warm, but needs to hold only a very minimal set of funds to perform certain specific transactions. And the session account is hot, but has no funds in it.

This design is much more secure than almost any other crypto network, since it allows you to store essentially all of your funds cold and offline.

Shared Validators

The shared validator security model in Polkadot provides security-as-a-service for all of the parachains.

This is quite different from Cosmos (which is the other major next-gen network) that enables parallelized application-specific blockchains. In Cosmos, each zone is on its own to recruit validators for security.

There are a lot of next-gen blockchains launching in 2019 and 2020 with some form of Delegated Proof of Stake which need professional validators to help secure their networks. There simply aren’t enough professional validators to go around and secure all of these networks. By having a shared security model, Polkadot has removed a big barrier to launching a parachain which should speed up adoption of the network.

What’s Next for PureStake as an Early Polkadot Validator

To date, PureStake has been providing node, API, and other infrastructure services for blockchain networks, including supporting the Algorand MainNet launch in June.

Now we are expanding our services to become a validator on Polkadot and the Kusama BetaNet (in preparation for the Polkadot MainNet launch). We will leverage a lot of what we’ve already built to support the Algorand network — the skills on the team, existing infrastructure, and code — to deliver highly reliable and secure validator services for Polkadot stakers. That includes:

  • Base compute infrastructure
  • Base storage infrastructure including blockchain snapshot / restore
  • Base network, VPC, VPN infrastructure
  • Authentication and authorization services
  • DevOps automation stack
  • Multi-cloud approach across AWS, Azure, and Google
  • Elastic load-balancer and firewall infrastructure
  • IDS, IPS, vulnerability management services
  • OS patch management and automation
  • Key and secrets management infrastructure
  • Monitoring and alerting infrastructure
  • Log collection and analysis infrastructure
  • DevOps and SecOps processes and reporting

Since only minimal work is needed to port the elements above, we can focus our energy on elements that need more adaptation to support Polkadot validation. Some of these areas include:

  • Validator infrastructure design: create our version of the standard sentry / validator design to support the validation requirements in Polkadot’s NPoS design
  • Extend our cloud automation: support the VPC, VPN, and other networking elements that are part of the validator design
  • Update our DevOps automation at the node and blockchain storage levels to support Polkadot-specific requirements
  • Enhance our monitoring, alerting, and logging / log analysis for Polkadot
  • Add support for Polkadot keys and secrets so they can be managed securely
  • Train our DevOps team on all things Polkadot so they can effectively manage and troubleshoot the services

We expect the PureStake validator infrastructure to be ready in time for the Kusama BetaNet switch to Proof of Stake. If you’d like to learn more about our Polkadot validator or other services we are planning, drop us a line.