A recurring theme in building applications is designing resilience and proximity to users into the underlying architecture. There are frequent tradeoffs to be made between the cost of implementing that resiliency and the proximity — whether it’s via multicloud architecture, edge caching or spanning regions and zones within the same cloud.
Blockchain nodes and their peer-to-peer nature create a certain resilience by design because having one node go offline doesn’t typically take down an app that relies on the blockchain data available on that specific node — users are routed to an alternative node and so they shouldn’t notice the difference. Decentralized applications (dApps) looking to achieve proximity to users have a similar challenge to traditional applications, in that compute resources in the form of nodes ideally should exist close to the user.
Today, about 40% of Ethereum nodes are based in the US, which suggests a lack of global decentralization and certainly fails the test of putting users outside the US close to where dApps are being served. To address these challenges, Ankr, a provider of both a multicloud distributed node network and an API layer for integration with over 40 blockchains, recently expanded its node network via a partnership with bare metal provider Maxihost.
Maxihost is delivering more than 100 bare metal servers to Ankr across 13 global edge locations, including Buenos Aires, Argentina and Bogotá, Colombia, which are opening in February 2022 specifically to serve Ankr’s requirements. Maxihost already has a strong presence in Latin America, including existing locations in Brazil, Chile and Mexico. The bare metal configured by Maxihost is chain agnostic, so it can support RPC Full Nodes for all available blockchains.
How Does This Benefit Developers?
In an interview with The New Stack, Ankr Head of Product Josh Neuroth shared some details, which are similar to the considerations of cloud application deployments. He highlights that geographically locating nodes near users results in “lower latency and therefore improved user experience with transactions processing faster, along with the lowered risk of another country blocking traffic at its borders. It also contributes to the healthiness and distribution of the blockchain network itself, making it less likely to be impacted by an internet or cloud outage.”
Effectively, more nodes translate to greater resiliency by making more copies of the blockchain available, reducing the likelihood of a major outage of the entire network and also shielding users inside one country from political decisions that may block access to a dApp for users outside of that country’s geographic borders.
Benefits for Users
Geographic proximity to these expanded nodes further improves user experience by reducing latency. For example, if a decentralized exchange or NFT marketplace is leveraging WalletConnect to authenticate Web3 users and also integrates the Ankr protocol, transactions will process faster. Neuroth shares another example: “When an individual in Brazil configures their MetaMask wallet to connect to Ankr Protocol’s public RPC, they will be querying a node local to their country. Argentinian users will have a similar experience.”
Neuroth specifically highlights Brazil and Argentina as examples because Ankr Protocol currently serves over 700 million RPC requests from Argentina every month, and over 1 Billion RPC requests monthly from Brazil.
More Nodes Does Not Directly Lower Fees
I asked Nueroth if more nodes results in any fee savings on gas, the transaction fee charged on the Ethereum blockchain. He replied, “Unfortunately, this will not change Ethereum gas fees. However, having high-performance infrastructure available for Ethereum scaling chains like Polygon and Arbitrum helps solve the gas issue.” That last part points to the fact that Layer 2 sidechains like Polygon and Arbitrum are able to service transactions at a lower cost than interacting directly with the Ethereum blockchain. Higher performance infrastructure to support running Layer 2 nodes results in improving the health of these Layer 2 offerings.
What’s notable here is that while Web3 architectures are different from traditional cloud deployments, there are some common challenges — like geographic proximity — that don’t go away. As each of these new protocols grows to service more developers and more users, they are faced with issues similar to cloud providers when expanding their footprint to be closer to where users are. What looks most promising about Web3 at this point is that the peer-to-peer nature of blockchain node networks should lead to a level of resilience that requires less effort for developers, once enough nodes are in place in a highly decentralized configuration.