[ENG] Hashed People: Decentralized Cloud Computing Blockchain by Co-founders of aelf, Zhuling and Haobo

Hashed Post had a depth interview with the 3rd generation of Blockchain, aelf's founders, Chen Zhuling and Ma Haobo. We talked about their high efficiency multi-chain parallel processing system with cross-chain and self-governance, scalable node on computer cluster, and voting system by token holders. Zhuling and Haobo answered all below questions for Hashed Post.

Can you briefly introduce yourself, including your history?

Z: My name is Zhuling. I am the co-founder of aelf, together with Haobo. Before aelf, I was a strategy consultant. After graduating from MIT as an engineer, I wanted to look at broader things and tackle various interesting tasks, which attracted me to the strategy consulting world.

I worked as a strategy consultant for the past 5 years covering South East Asia, mainly advising companies and governments on strategic key issues. By working in emerging countries like Indonesia & Myanmar, I had the opportunity to look at how technology can transform each country, which got me very interested.

Being an engineer, I always have this urge to understand the upcoming technology, which eventually led me to Blockchain, where I enjoyed being a hobbyist in learning and reading the white papers for different ideas.

I think there was a period when everyone was talking about the potential applications that could be successfully running on Blockchain, at which point quite a few had already happened. But the more I looked into it, the more I saw a huge need in terms of building the infrastructure underneath. For example, in order to build a Porsche or Mercedes, you need to first build a highway, otherwise the vehicle cannot run as they are supposed to. Haobo and I started talking about the idea of aelf last July, and that is how we started the whole journey.

aelf's co-founder, Chen Zhuling

H: I began trading Bitcoin during my university days. I entered in the early days around 2013 where I started to do mining for both Litecoin and Bitcoin. With growing interest in the industry, I went on to create GemPay which focused on Bitcoin payment (similar to BitPay), along with an offchain wallet called Gem wallet.

I also developed a crypto exchange, allcoin. After that, I went on to start my own company called Hoopox providing Blockchain services to clients such as Hainan Airlines, which is a very large conglomerate in China. And last year, we started this project called aelf.

How and why did you start aelf?

Z: Bitcoin showcased one of the use-cases of Blockchain on payment, but Ethereum opened up much more possibilities on what Blockchain could potentially do in areas other than payment. We think that the Ethereum platform is great, as it has a very good illustration of what Blockchain can do ultimately as a general computing platform.

However, along the way, we believe that there are couple of problems with Ethereum that need to be improved on. One is that hundreds or thousands of smart contracts running on one single Blockchain can be very problematic, as it basically allows only one smart contract to be successful while the other ones may get stuck. This is what's called resource segregation.

Also, by looking more from an architectural point of view, we think that one chain will probably not be the ultimate solution and that is why we explored a multi-chain architecture. We also wanted to bring higher efficiency in terms of computational power, and consequentially borrowed the concept of cloud computing into our system.

Overall, we are bringing in a lot of existing concepts that had already been tested in other fields, into Blockchain. We are focusing on making sure that the design and the engineering is done right and I think we are already at the point where the markets are matured enough to incorporate those new ideas onto Blockchain.

H: To add on to Zhuling’s points. The three key issues we are addresing are, Performance, Resource Segregation and Governance. Ethereum is like a world computer where we can deploy any application on its platform. However, its performance is not very efficient - reason being that each computer can run a full node and every Ethereum full nodes are equal. Therefore, the performance of world computer matches the performance of your own computer, which can be equally inefficient.
This is why we want to create a world cloud computing platform. So in our system architecture, the full node will be running on clusters. aelf nodes will have many clusters and data centers, and these data centers are equal and the performance can be very efficient.

We also want to solve resource segregation. As you know, a very small game like CryptoKitties can flood the whole traffic on the Ethereum platform, which affected others. Being a commercial application, these issues should not affect the entire platform. Thus, we want to make sure each application will run on its own Blockchain.

The third question is, who has control over a Blockchain ecosystem? A Blockchain system, being a decentralized network, means no one can control it. Take Bitcoin for example, the community is split between some that want to increase the block size so to improve the performance but the other refused this idea, stalling the the decision making for a long time. We want to make sure the community can vote and such feature will be added onto the system for on-chain governance.

You do not need hard forks for improvements?
Z: For governance, we are trying to reduce the number of hard forks in this case by having pre-set rules on consensus. So once the whole community reach a consensus, the whole network should follow. We do fundamentally believe that, nothing is perfect at the first place so we need a quick prototyping approach.

For example, when there is a certain thing that needs to be improved on, we need a way for people to reach agreement fast and make it happen, instead of a decision just being in impasse for a long time. We do think that Blockchain is still in experimental phase, which is why we want to have this quick decision making system.

Can you share a little bit more on the voting system? Whether there could be some threshold to make it happen/not happen, or that if the total vote is lower than something or participation rate is lower than something, it will trigger a re-vote? What are the rules?

Z: For that part, we have not finalize the whole design yet, but having a certain threshold to ensure the minimum viable participation rate is definitely important. We have already seen this case in some other systems, but also having the first round of voting principles does not mean that this will stick to that way forever. This is kind of a constitution and it should be adjusted based on the members in this community and the whole dynamics.
We will propose the first draft of the voting principles, but it will be dynamic and can be improved in the future.

So are there any areas that can be voted by delegates/representatives?

Z: In terms of the voting process, there are two layers. Certain decisions will be voted on by delegated nodes (kind of like Senators), then there will be also other decisions to be voted by all the token holders. I think the key here is how to delegate the two layers.

Another general question, you said that Blockchain is still in an experimental phase. There are a lot of new Blockchain projects like Dfinity or EOS, they are doing their own Blockchain experiments with their own technology. They are working on it fast. So how do you compete with them? When do you want to launch your product?

Z: I think 2018 is a very exciting year for us. Like you said, a couple of Blockchain experiments will have their testnet ready including EOS, aelf and Dfinity. I think competition is good in this market as different people are taking different paths, some are working on the randomness of DPOS while some are focusing on the efficiency of DPOS (which is EOS).

For us, consensus is one part but we also focus on the overall architecture to ensure the existence of multi-chains, and smart contracts that will not interfere with each other and also increased computational power.

I do not think this will be like a winner takes-all situation in near future. In fact, I think each has its own merit, and I see this as a race that everyone will move forward as a whole industry. I do believe we have an edge as we are different from the other technologies. We focus on multi-chain technology that is distinguishably different from the one-chain-solve-all approach. Also, we are bringing in the cloud computing capability into the scene. These are the innovations that we are bringing onto the table.

By the second half of the year, our testnet will be ready and the same goes for our competitors. The battle then will be more on how each of us can build up our ecosystem. In a growing and emerging industry, there are enough room and opportunities for all of us to try out things. Some of us may go into the field of working more with large corporates while some will get into the start-ups.

But building an ecosystem and having some kind of alliance to nurture the ecosystem is important and that is why we are launching the innovation alliance, to work with different parties. By having Michael Arrington, the co-founder of TechCrunch sitting at our advisory board is very valuable because he is able to connect us to numerous start-ups from US, especially those located in the Silicon Valley. Given our Asian roots, we have helped quite a number of projects in the past in the region. We are also looking into helping companies with their innovations build on top of aelf. I think that is how we see it.

aelf's co-founder, Ma Haobo

So you mentioned that you are going to release your testnet in the second half of this year right?

Z: Yeah, so the target is by end of June. That is when we will have our testnet go live. Our mainnet will be released by end of this year.

We are also already in talks with quite a number of companies, and we are targeting the ones that we think could be faster in adopting the Blockchain technology. Examples of some of these areas are the finance industry, as well as community driven businesses, something similar like Github, where there is already decentralization and people are familiar with open source. So we are definitely working on these areas and are already in discussion with them, so that we can invite them to get on board, once our testnet is ready.

How many partners or companies you are currently talking with approximately?

Z: Around 10 as of now.

Most of them are located in China? Or Southeast Asia?

Z: They are coming from various countries. We are currently more focused on building the market awareness and also the platform, so the business development side will come slightly later as we do not want to rush into it.

Even so, there are already many companies that have come to know aelf - reason why we already have around 10 companies across different countries. These companies expressed their interests because they want to understand more deeply about Blockchain technology. We are seen as a solid team in Asia and we share our views about how Blockchain can help them.

They are also trying to scout the available options in terms of fundamental structures. A very attractive key point for them when thinking about building on top of aelf technology is the resource segregation, which allows them to have their own dedicated chains. This ensures performance will not be impacted by other smart contracts.

An example would be, if one company decided to do their dapp on Ethereum, they will have to worry about a potential second Cryptokitty game that is going to block the whole chain and affecting their own performance. Therefore, if Cryptokitty were to happen on aelf, it will only jam one side chain while the other companies’ smart contracts will be on its own side chain running smoothly.

So other dapps are not going to be affected by one’s performance?

Z: That is correct.

Ok. So talking about side chain solution, the first glance looks like Ethereum’s plasma solution right? So how will you describe this in your solution, being different from plasma?

Z: We need to move away from calling them, main chain and side chains because we are not doing a side chain solution. Instead, we are having a multi-chain structure with the main chain not doing any transactions and is actually an observer that observes all the other chains to make sure transactions are recorded by using the Merkle Tree Root.

You can consider main chain as more like an observer of the behaviour for other chains. All the other chains are created equally and each of them are considered to be on the different lanes of the highway, and the main chain is the traffic police making sure that the side chains are running smoothly and also ensures the communication across all chains. Therefore, this is different from a side chain solution.
From what we understood on the current side chains, others like Plasma are using the main chain that hosts most of the smart contracts and their side chain is more of a way to offload the transaction. This improves the transaction speed but it is still running smart contracts on one chain. As comparison, we are putting all the smart contracts each on different chains.

The main difference is the smart contracts each located in different chains.

Z: Yup!

We are currently facing several new side chain projects. How is aelf different?

Z: I think it leads to a quite similar direction. It could seems there are quite a lot of similarities, either it is one chain observing other chains, or using a main chain and side chain solution. It goes to show that the whole industry has seen a need to recognize, and that one chain is not sufficient to solve everything, hence why we need a multi-chain solution.

Although having the multi-chain solution solves one part of the scalability issue, if you really want to execute more complicated smart contracts, ultimately you need more powerful computers, that is where the cloud computing concept comes in. We are going to build a task scheduler that ensures transaction that can be processed in parallel. Currently, most of the chains process transactions one by one, so that is actually the key innovation within aelf, which stands out from the others.

Trying to solve the scalability issue with side chain looks good, but building side chain for each dapp might be not easy for dapp developers.

Z: Yes. We are building a template for the side chain, there will be one place holder for your smart contract where you can choose how you want to write your smart contract. Another place holder is that you choose your own consensus. If you are using DPOS which is the same as the main ecosystem, there will be merged mining in which you share the same number of nodes within the ecosystem. You can also use PoW or even use it as a private chain. 

We have a template for those companies that do not need to build their Blockchain from scratch which they can set how they want to run their chain. Once they have either a private chain or a chain that is more similar to Etheruem or Bitcoin, they can choose to link it with our main chain to ensure the transaction is verified.

If you look at the whole ecosystem, one part of it will be the public ecosystem shared among the same mining pools, then we have some other different chains using the same technology, be it using PoW, PoA or being private. That will be how the whole ecosystem looks like.

How is this different from other interchains like Cosmos or ICON?

Z: There are two types of interchains. One is heterogeneous, meaning that you unite different Blockchains so it becomes like United Nation. Each of them is actually controlled by a different community, which are speaking to each other.

But for us, instead of being heterogeneous, we are making it homogenous. The reason is because the fundamental template will always be the same, which is more like having a federation, but they share the same kind of constitution among them and therefore our system is more of a homogenous one.

It sounds like the goal of aelf is great and huge. I think team is really important to your project. So can you describe a little bit about your team?

H: Our team is 25 and expanding. Mostly based in Beijing and in Singapore we have some newcomers as we were only listed in December 2017. Our engineer teams consist of experienced individuals from Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent and we are also expecting some newcomers from Microsoft. We are definitely still expanding. In my opinion, the Blockchain industry is very new and small, and there are many technologies in Blockchain where we want to attract many other field engineers, especially cloud computing.

Z: Beside the core team, we also engage with various third parties providing services. For example, we have Wachsman based in New York as our PR agency to help us to grow globally.

As this is an open source project, the development team also consists of the many contributors on Github, who already has contributed ideas and codes where we need help.

Our community is actually wholly run by our volunteers; we see them as extended members of our company. The whole idea is that we do not want to be seen as one company that moves the whole development but instead, we want to encourage people from different backgrounds, be it from Internet business or people who are just interested in this technology to help us.

That is why we started this Azeroth program, and the ultimate goal is to have certain tasks listed and whoever is interested and capable of delivering it, they will take that job and deliver it and they will be rewarded.

The team is growing right now. We are having more people in Singapore, South Korea, New York and Germany, and of course we are open to any other countries that becomes more active. We do see the team to grow quite quickly from 25 maybe to 30 or 40 in a short time period.

What about the computational contribution and the economical contribution?

Z: One of the benefits of having interoperability besides the communication part, is the shared resources, shared hash power or shared computational power – so aelf is providing that for some of the new chains who decided to join us using the same technology.

For the whole mechanism, as a side chain joins the whole ecosystem to benefit from the shared computational power and miners, there will also be an economic incentive to the whole ecosystem which, the profit can be shared among the miners. This ultimately becomes a whole united pool.

We are close to our last question. Since you said you are hiring a local manager in Korea, seems like Korea is really a hot market to aelf, and to many other projects as well, so can you tell me why Korea is a huge market?

Z: We have seen that the Korean market is very interested in new technology, and we need people who are creative, who are committed because Blockchain is still at its early stage, so it is important to have people who really believe in it.
And by looking at the Internet business, I think Korea has proven itself to be one of the most innovative and also software driven countries. That is very attractive to us in terms of human resources. And I think Korea has also shown a willingness to embrace new technology, which is critical to Blockchain. This also why we see this market as very attractive to us.

I would say expanding in Korea is not the ultimate goal. Koreans are very welcoming to the technology and we see this as a place where we can find creative people, it is also the place where people are trying new things and hence the reason why we made the decision to tap into Korea first.

What do you think of the recent market crash?

Z: Everything comes in cycles and there is a business cycle. For real estate, usually it is 6-10 years; for internet maybe 4-5 years; one of the fascinating part about Blockchain is that everything is accelerating, so for Blockchain maybe every 3 months the whole market changes. (laughters) You don’t sleep, it is 24/7.

We have gone through the downside of a new cycle. We do not know when the next cycle will go up, but this is just a part of life. I think financially and mentally our team are prepared for the downturn and we are all good.

I personally believe sometimes that a downturn is the best time for infrastructure development because it gets rid of a lot of noises and you have less pressure on other aspects but focus on doing what is really important in the long run. That is why we are trying to enter some of the key markets, forming new partnerships regardless of what the market is doing, and since 2013, markets have gone up and down, and people have left and joined.

But it is important that we believe this is the next generation of Internet, the next generation of exciting things. The internet bubble busted in 2000, but those that stayed were the “star” companies like Google,and we all know the story. So I will stay here and see how it works out.

Apart from the market crash and the price changes, what do you think of the Chinese regulation? I think it is important for you guys because your business is located in China right?

Z: We started our root in China. I think the Chinese government is in line with any other governments – they welcome the innovation of Blockchain but they are very cautious about protecting the investors. I think that is why in the fund-raising part, they are putting more regulations, which I think is sensible. The Chinese government is very welcoming about new technology because of the Internet business, essentially mobile Internet has played a critical role in making China to go global quickly and successfully. I think Blockchain is the next opportunity for all countries. And I think the government also made it clear that they want innovation and want to support infrastructure in Blockchain. And we are doing exactly that, which is why Haobo is involved in some of the panel discussions with the government – how to define performances of different Blockchains.

H: We helped a top Chinese university build the Blockchain test centers and test different Blockchain performance. The Central Bank of China has paid a lot of attention into Blockchain technology and they also want to educate the people more on the technology and at the same time, keeping its people safe from losing money in the market.

We are almost at the end of the interview, is there any comments for the aelf investors/ potential fans in Korea?

Z: We have been marketing and communicating in the past one month, and it is really heart warming to see community members step up and volunteer to help us. I think that really means something and we would like to welcome any volunteers from South Korea to work with us. We are willing to provide a lot of opportunities, be it on the development side or being on marketing side and we always need more people. I think that is also to the true spirit of open source projects.

H: We want to have some developers in its own local community. In order to build an open source community, we need to have people in its own country as they can participate in technology meetups and further interact with other developers, not just in China.

There will be Job descriptions released along with the announcement right?

Z: Yup, exactly!

Cool, alright. Thank you very much.

Z, H: Thank you for your time!

* aelf Official Hompage : https://aelf.io/
* aelf Official Telegram : https://t.me/aelfblockchain
* aelf Offical Korean Telegram : https://t.me/aelfkorean
* HASHED LOUNGE Telegram : https://t.me/hashedlounge

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