This new blockchain tech combines speed and security to deliver your financial transactions at breakneck speed.
If you’re a longtime evangelical for Bitcoin or looking for new ways to dabble in the digital economy, hold onto your hats – things are about to move a whole lot quicker.
Researchers at University of Sydney have developed a blockchain program that can process digital financial transactions at speeds more than 10 times faster compared to current systems.
Blockchains – the tech that powers cryptocurrencies – are creating new avenues of growth for the digital economy. Alongside security, speed is paramount to giving the tech an edge over traditional transaction methods.
Like the snake it’s named after, the Red Belly Blockchain is an Aussie native that’s also lightning fast, with the ability to process 660,000 transactions per second on 300 machines in a single data centre.
For comparison, VISA’s network peaks at approximately 65,000 transactions per second, while the Bitcoin network can only accommodate around seven transactions per second.
According to Dr Vincent Gramoli, head of the university’s Concurrent Systems Research Group, the Red Belly Blockchain achieves its speedy performance through the use of unique indexes for blocks; it removes the possibility of ‘forks’, where blocks created at around the same time cause the network to branch off, rather than remaining as a single long chain.
“If you have multiple blocks with the same index, it is not really a chain in the sense that you have a unique block per index. What we have tried to do is ensure that there is a unique block per index so that we can maintain this chain properly,” he said.
Gramoli explained that this approach has advantages for performance. Because each block has a unique index, the program does not have to wait to hear about blocks with a duplicate index, and can create new blocks straight away.
Unique indexing also removes avenues for slippery dealing. For instance, the Red Belly Blockchain is resistant to ‘double spending’ attacks, where the same currency is used twice for different purchases.
“Essentially double spending is based on the fact that you can have conflicting transactions at multiple index blocks located at the same index of the blockchain,” Gramoli said.
“Because we don’t have forks, we can’t have multiple blocks at the same index of the chain. So we won’t have conflicting transactions in the blocks because there are no multiple blocks.”
Similar but different
The main challenge in developing the Red Belly Blockchain was redefining the 30-year-old Byzantine Consensus Problem. The team could not find a secure solution to this problem in the context of a blockchain, so they came up with an alternative problem, which they dubbed ‘blockchain consensus’.
“The original Byzantine Consensus Problem and its solutions were not designed to scale; they were designed to just run on a few nodes in a local area network,” Gramoli said.
“So the big challenge was to change the problem and come up with a solution that would scale to a large number of nodes. Because we solved a different problem, our solution can really scale well.”
The Red Belly Blockchain model differs from traditional blockchain technologies, which use a ‘proof of work’ model to solve a computing-intensive crypto-puzzle. The crypto-puzzle is a security feature that prevents users from impersonating multiple identities easily. Because solving this puzzle is a computing-intensive process, computers used for traditional blockchain technologies use a lot of power.
Gramoli explained that because Red Belly Blockchain functions differently, it is more power efficient.
“In our case, we don’t need proof of work, so we don’t have to solve any crypto-puzzle. Essentially running our blockchain is comparable to running a web service. It has nothing to do with running Bitcoin for example,” he said.
VISA uses yet another model, which centralises services in a few geographic centres. In contrast, the Red Belly Blockchain model allows machines to run services in any country.
The people’s blockchain
Gramoli and his team have just recently made the Red Belly Blockchain available for use by individual members of the public. They will now focus on further testing and challenge information security students to identify vulnerabilities.
They will also implement additional features, including incentives to attract public companies to participate in providing the Red Belly Blockchain as a service for processing digital transactions.
To try out the Red Belly Blockchain program for yourself, click on the ‘code and gitlab’ link at the bottom of the research team’s webpage here.