Dfinity: Blockchain-based Cloud

Dfinity is a startup focused on building a new blockchain-based cloud, which aims to radically reduce enterprise IT costs. Dominic Williams, president and chief scientist at the company, says, “the project dates back to early 2015, being born out of ideas about how randomness created by cryptography could be used to create a blockchain computer with potentially unlimited capacity and incredible performance.”

In addition to its primary function as a scalable open cloud supported by a decentralized network of computers, the vision for Dfinity also involves it hosting general dapps, decentralized finance, decentralized social media systems and large scale open source businesses that the company hopes will ultimately compete with traditional businesses such as Uber and Ebay.

How does Dfinity work?

Dfinity’s blockchain is powered by threshold cryptography. Network nodes notarize every block in a decentralized manner. Computations are finalized in seconds instead of minutes or hours. This randomness also drives protocols that give the Dfinity computer unlimited capacity. With each new mining computer, the network scales out to process more data. Dfinity will have a system of self-governance, aimed at allowing the network to be fully adaptive. The blockchain nervous system monitors and updates the network continuously.

The Dfinity protocol, which the company also calls the Dfinity consensus mechanism, has gone through several iterations since 2014.

Its first major milestone was the Threshold Relay technique aimed at decentralized, deterministic randomness, made possible by several unique characteristics within the BLS signature system. The scalable decentralized random beacon sits at the foundation of the protocol. On top of the beacon sits a blockchain, which deploys notarization by threshold groups to achieve maximum speed of computation.

The next milestone for the Dfinity team was the notarization technique, the aim of which is to solve the traditional challenges that come with proof-of-stake systems. The Dfinity consensus relies upon a flexible, tunable proof-of-stake algorithm. The final milestone was focused on security and making the security proofs sound.

Who is Behind Dfinity?

Dominic Williams, president and chief scientist of the company describes himself as a crypo theoretician and entrepreneur. He previously ran a venture-backed MMO game using his own distributed systems. Originally from England, Williams studied at Kings College, London and is now based in Palo Alto, California. He is also the President and CTO of String Labs, a venture-backed crypto studio, incubator and investor, which is helping fund Dfinity.

The R&D team listed on the company website is quite large, totalling 26, from a wider range of backgrounds and specialties, including Ben Lynn, Senior Staff Scientist & Engineer who comes from ten years as a senior engineer at Google.

 Funding Status

The company’s initial fundraising began in February 2017 and raised the company about $40M from members of the public, which they described as a “Seed” round. They just announced their initial venture round, which they dubbed the “Strategic” found, coming in at $61M from investors Polychain Capital and Andreessen Horowitz.

At the same time, the startup announced that Polychain would be helping “establish a substantial Dfinity Ecosystem Venture Fund”, which will finance projects that build on, or otherwise support, the Dfinity Internet Computer, its blockchain-based cloud. In a blog post announcing Dfinity’s ambitious fundraising plans Dominic Williams wrote, “total funding for our project will exceed $100M”.

Will there be an ICO?

In his recent blog on fundraising, Dominic Williams expressed the company’s determination to continue to enable widespread participation, following in the vein of the original Ethereum ICO, which “demonstrated a positive and more democratic vision of the future”.

They intend to proceed with two funding rounds: the first, a pre-sale round involving contributors who can pass stringent KYC and AML procedures described by Swiss regulator, FINMA; the second round, which Williams says “may or may not happen”, will be termed the ICO, which the company would like to be run by regulated traditional exchanges at the same time the network goes live.

What’s the Timeline?

Dfinity expects to launch its open cloud network in early summer 2018; and its first public testnet in the coming months.

What Impact will Dfinity have on the Cloud Computing Landscape?

Dfinity’s blockchain based cloud intends to compete against the big players in the cloud like AWS, Google and Microsoft Azure. Its claims for itself are large and ambitious, including that it will have unlimited capacity and be a “tamperproof” system.

Dfinity also says its cloud will not involve the traditional backup and restore systems or storage databases, “allowing costs to be cut by 90% or more by reducing the supporting human capital required”. This would be hugely significant if achieved.

Dfinity is not just competing against the traditional cloud providers, but also against its blockchain rivals. In October 2017, the company completed a global 500 node testnet. Williams said it showed Dfinity’s network completed computations in one second, which means it “is running 600-times faster than Ethereum is today”.

Further Reading

Medium post on Fundraising Plans by Dominic Williams, president and chief scientist at Dfinity

Medium post on Dfinity’s Vision by Dominic Williams

Medium post on its consensus algorithm, by Timo Hanke, CTO

Dfinity White Paper

SDX Central article on Dfinity

Video on the Dfinity test network

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