Solana isn’t widely known yet outside of the crypto community. But insiders think the blockchain platform is interesting for a wide variety of reasons, beginning with its amiable founder, Anatoly Yakovenko, who spent more than a dozen years as an engineer working on wireless protocols at Qualcomm and who says he had a lightbulb moment at a San Francisco cafe several years ago following two coffees and a beer.
His big idea centered on creating an historical record to speed along “consensus,” which is how decisions are made on blockchains, which are themselves peer-to-peer systems.
Right now, consensus is reached on various blockchains when members solve a mathematical puzzle, a mechanism that’s called “proof of work.” These miners are rewarded for their efforts with cryptocurrency, but the process takes an hour in Bitcoin’s case and a minute in the case of Ethereum, and it’s insanely energy intensive, which is why neither Bitcoin nor Ethereum has proved very scalable. (Bitcoin’s heavy reliance on fossil fuel is the reason Elon Musk cited earlier this week to explain why Tesla is no longer accepting Bitcoin as payment for the company’s electric cars.)
But there is another way. Indeed, crypto watchers and developers are excited about Ethereum and other currencies that are transitioning to a new system called “proof of stake,” wherein people who agree to lock up a certain amount of their cryptocurrency are invited to activate so-called validator software that enables them to store data, process transactions, and add new blocks to the blockchain. Like miners, “validators” take on the role to earn more cryptocurrency, but they need far less sophisticated equipment, which opens up the opportunity to more people. Meanwhile, because more validators can participate in a network, consensus can be reached faster.
Yakovenko is enthusiastic about the shift. We talked with him yesterday, and he’s certainly not rooting against Ethereum, saying it would be “devastating for the entire industry” if Ethereum weren’t able to pull off its transition to proof of stake given its mindshare and its roughly $500 billion market cap.
Still, he argues that not even proof of stake is good enough. The reason, he says, is that even with proof of stake, miners — and bots — have advance access to transaction information that allows them to exploit users, or front run transactions, because they can control transaction ordering.
Enter Yakovenko’s big idea, which he calls “proof of history,” wherein the Solana blockchain has developed a kind of synchronized clock that, in essence, assigns a timestamp for each transaction and disables the ability for miners and bots to decide the order of which transactions get recorded onto the blockchain. Yakovenko says doing so allows for greater security and “censorship resistance.”
According to a new explainer of Solana in the outlet Decrypt, Solana has innovated other ways, too, including by forwarding transactions to validators even before the previous batch of transactions is finalized, which reportedly helps to “maximize confirmation speed and boost the number of transactions that can be handled both concurrently and in parallel.”
“Basically, the speed of light is how fast we can make this network go,” says Yakovenko.
Certainly, Solana — which has sold tokens to investors but never equity in the company — has many excited about its prospects. In recent interviews with both investor Garry Tan of Initialized Capital and CEO Joe Lallouz of the blockchain infrastructure company Bison Trails, both mentioned Solana as among the projects they find most interesting right now. (We assume both hold its tokens.)
Others say on background that while they understand the developer benefits and need for more scaleable blockchains than Ethereum, Solana still needs to more developer mindshare to prove its long-term worth and it’s not there yet. According to Solana itself, there are currently 608 validators helping secure the Solana Network and 47 decentralized applications (or “dapps”) powered by Solana. Meawhile, they were reportedly 33,700 active validators helping to secure “Eth 2.0” as of late December and 3,000 dapps running on the Ethereum blockchain as of February.
In fairness, the Ethereum network went live in 2015, so it has a three-year head start on Solana. In the meantime, Solana has a lead of its own, says Yakovenko, who is based in…