The concept of ‘cloud computing’ remains mysterious to most – with over half of Americans reportedly believing that a storm could disrupt cloud computing services. However, it’s this sprawling, invisible architecture that supports the vast majority of the internet.
Control of this vital infrastructure is concentrated in very few hands, with 74 percent of the cloud computing market gobbled up by Microsoft, Amazon, IBM and Google. And it’s Amazon Web Services (AWS) that snatches the largest – 40 percent – share. A plugin discreetly named ‘Fuck off AWS‘ developed by programmer, Dhruv Mehrotra, blocks any website with connections to Amazon servers. However, it renders much of the internet defunct, with sites such as Netflix, Pinterest and Slack flickering into darkness.
Simultaneously, data centres are an environmental nightmare, requiring vast amounts of energy to power them and keep them cool, leading Microsoft to dump theirs into the sea in an effort to maintain the required temperature.
That’s one side of the equation. Here’s the other. Did you know that whenever your laptop, smart TV or phone remains plugged in but idle, vast amounts of computing power remain untapped?
DADI (Decentralized Architecture for a Democratic Internet) is a decentralised internet project that is solving the former two problems by exploiting the latter. It allows any device owner to rent their computing power (via the DADI application) to the DADI network and receive payment from enterprise users.
“We have this idea that we want to reinvent the home as a data centre,” says DADI Product Director, Paul Regan. “Why is that we all line the pockets of large corporations like Google and Microsoft for accessing services that are – if this isn’t overreaching to say – a basic human right,” he says, pointing out that the internet has become part of the irremovable fabric of our lives, where we do everything from shopping to finding work or accessing government services. “The model that we [DADI] have is everybody owns a little bit of the internet – 90 percent of our revenue goes back to the people that support our network.”
The five-year-old company has always deployed a democratic, collaborative approach towards software, initially specialising in open source content management system (CMS) software for clients including lifestyle magazine, Monocle, and Bauer, the publishing giant that now uses DADI software to run the sites of 120 of its titles, including Empire, Closer and Grazia.
As the company was looking to expand its web building services, they were examining options for cheaper hosting solutions for their clients to deploy DADI technology.
“One bright spark in our engineering team said ‘couldn’t we build our own network?'” says Regan. “Now this seemed a bit crazy at first because this is effectively us taking on Amazon – why would we bother doing that?”
However, after experimenting with the first distributed node network made up of Raspberry Pi single board computers, they realised that, with the integration of blockchain technology, it might just be possible.
Since developing the technology further, they’ve discovered that a network of 20-30 nodes is sufficient to support one of their client’s sites that receives millions of viewers every month. The main net launched in June, 2018 and the network is now comprised of 381 nodes, with the company hoping to grow this number exponentially. Right now, they are supported by a few data centres too, to provide assurance to new business users that there is no risk of an outage as the network is scaling up. However in time, this probably won’t be necessary.
Where does blockchain technology come into it? Regan is careful to differentiate DADI from other companies that have merely alighted on blockchain as a useful vehicle to raise money through an unregulated ICO.
“It wasn’t the case as I suspect with lots of organisations out there, that they found the funding route and then found an application for it,” he says.
Instead, blockchain is integral to DADI’s concept, allowing for a truly dispersed and autonomous internet network unmediated by a central body. The network itself is self-sustaining and not-for-profit. However, the DADI company retains five percent of the funds created in order to reinvest in the software and pay the team. A further five percent is directed towards a foundation set up to support projects supporting free and open internet.
The idea has proved popular, with the public token sale selling out in 12 minutes and raising $30 million (£23 million) for the company. Online traction has been overwhelming, with the project boasting the largest Telegram community in the world for a time.
“The way that this project has been funded by a community, the way that it is supported by a community, and the fact that the end product feeds back to the community is such a new power model,” says Regan.
But what benefits does the technology offer to enterprise customers? Well for one, it’s likely to be at least 50 percent of the cost of picking an established service such as AWS.
“We have in testing managed to prove that it could be up to 90 percent,” says Regan, “but we need to be cautious because we want to wait until we get into the real world and see how that actually models outs.” It will also to provide a faster connection, they claim, because the nodes are likely to be closer to you than a remote data centre.
The internet abounds with blockchain evangelists. “There are people you’ll talk to that think the rise of blockchain is going to present the greatest redistribution of wealth that we’ve known for generations,” says Regan.
He takes a more measured approach, but frankly states DADI’s ideological impetus. “Without putting ourselves on a pedestal too much, this is a project that adheres to the founding principles of the internet,” he says. “It is a free and open service that was conceived of to help people, and we believe that’s what the DADI project is doing.”