Blockchain is a secure record-keeping technology for the digital world.
It comes from a desire to remove the ‘middle man’ from transactions, allowing two entities to trade and transact without having to pay an unnecessary third party, while at the same time keeping secure, agreeable records of the transaction.
Blockchain keeps records secure not by entrusting them to one entity, but by distributing trust to every party associated with the chain, wherein each ‘node’ of information along the chain is cross-checked and verified by each party.
There are different varieties of blockchain specialised for the environments in which they’ll be deployed.
Public blockchains, such as those used for Bitcoin, create long chains that are very secure. The process is secure and the ‘trust’ distributed (good), but since each node is checked and verified by countless public parties, it’s also slow and energetically demanding, the processing speed of Bitcoin’s network being just 3 to 3.7 transactions per second.
There are private blockchains, too. These blockchains aren’t entrusted to a sea of anonymous public users but to a private entity.
This means transactions are processed quicker and cheaper—both money and energy-wise—but have the trust put back in the hands of a single, opaque group.
These types of blockchains, if used by groups like governments, are ideal in providing the security of blockchain, while cutting the costs of unnecessary (and very fallible) real-world infrastructure like polling staff and booths.
Of course there’s a tepid mamma bear variety: consortium blockchains, which entrust the blockchain to a number of predefined parties to vet, making it quick, cheap, and not the claim of a monopoly.
The downside, here though, is a limit to the number of nodes, and of course, a slow transaction speed—a trait common of all three blockchain varieties.
It’s not just transaction speeds that hamper existing blockchains, but issues like ‘double spending’, a bug in public blockchains whereby a single chain gets ‘forked’, resulting in transactions getting duplicated leading to double-charged parties. Needless to say that double the spend is not ‘double the fun’.
Red Belly Blockchain
It was these drawbacks that led Dr Vincent Gramoli from our Data61 team and the Concurrent Systems Research Group at the University of Sydney to form Red Belly Blockchain and address the double spending bug—which they did by developing a novel ‘leaderless consensus’ algorithm that creates blockchains with a single thread that, unlike the tongue of their reptilian namesake, is unforkable.
And since Red Belly Blockchain’s technology is underpinned by an algorithm rather than sheer-numbers of computational parties, this allows its performance to remain steady as it grows, negating the electricity consumption that normally accumulates with additional users.
This scalability makes the technology ‘amphibious’, able to operate in both public and private environments, forming short, manageable chains ideal for private operations that can be scaled ‘horizontally’ to the winding, Falkor-variety blockchains characteristic of public networks.
Taking part in our pre-accelerator program, ON Prime, in 2017, the Red Belly Blockchain team developed a business model and began testing. Their first tests, using 100 machines, showed Red Belly Blockchain to process 440,000 transactions per second—a whopping improvement on the ~4 per second of Bitcoin and even the 56,000 per second of then VISA’s network.
Subsequent tests through 2017–18 proved the technology even more efficacious, culminating in the most recent test with Amazon Web Services (AWS) this month, which used AWS’ global cloud infrastructure to deploy Red Belly Blockchain technology across 1,000 virtual machines over 14 different regions—North America, South America, Asia Pacific, Europe—resulting in an average time to commit transactions of only 3 seconds.
“Real world applications of blockchain have been struggling to get off the ground due to issues with energy consumption and complexities induced by the proof of work,” said Gramoli.
“AWS’ deployment of Red Belly Blockchain shows the unique scalability and strength of the technology in a global context,” he said.