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Blockchains vs centralized databases

Four key differences between blockchains and regular databases If you’ve been reading my previous posts, you will know by now that blockchains are simply a new type of database. That is, a database which can be directly shared, in a write sense, by a group of non-trusting parties, without requiring a central administrator. This contrasts… Read more »

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Four key differences between blockchains and regular databases

If you’ve been reading my previous posts, you will know by now that blockchains are simply a new type of database. That is, a database which can be directly shared, in a write sense, by a group of non-trusting parties, without requiring a central administrator. This contrasts with traditional (SQL or NoSQL) databases that are controlled by a single entity, even if some kind of distributed architecture is used within its walls.

I recently gave a talk about blockchains from the perspective of information security, in which I concluded that blockchains are more secure than regular databases in some ways, and less secure in others. Considering the leading role that centralized databases play in today’s technology stack, this got me thinking more broadly about the trade-offs between these two technologies. Indeed, whenever someone asks me if MultiChain can be used for a particular purpose, my first response is always: “Could you do that with a regular database?” In more cases than you might think, the answer is yes, for the following simple reason:

If trust and robustness aren’t an issue, there’s nothing a blockchain can do that a regular database cannot.

This is a key point on which there is so much misunderstanding. In terms of the types of data that can be stored, and the transactions that can be performed on that data, blockchains don’t do anything new. And just to be clear, this observation extends to “smart contracts” as well, despite their sexy name and image. A smart contract is nothing more than a piece of computer code which runs on every node in a blockchain – a decades-old technology called stored procedures does the same for centralized databases. (You also cannot use a blockchain if this code needs to initiate interactions with the outside world.)

The truth about blockchains is that, while they have some advantages, they also have their downsides. In other words, like most technology decisions, the choice between a blockchain and a regular database comes down to a series of trade-offs. If you’re blinded by the hype and deafened by the noise, you’re unlikely to make that choice objectively. So I hope the following guide might help.

Disintermediation: advantage blockchains

The core value of a blockchain is enabling a database to be directly shared across boundaries of trust, without requiring a central administrator. This is possible because blockchain transactions contain their own proof of validity and their own proof of authorization, instead of requiring some centralized application logic to enforce those constraints. Transactions can therefore be verified and processed independently by multiple “nodes”, with the blockchain acting as a consensus mechanism to ensure those nodes stay in sync.

Why is there value in this disintermediation? Because even though a database is just bits and bytes, it is also a tangible thing. The contents of a database are stored in the memory and disk of a particular computer system, and anybody with sufficient access to that system can destroy or corrupt the data within. As a result, the moment you entrust your data to a regular database, you also become dependent on the human organization in which that database resides.

Now, the world is filled with organizations which have earned this trust – governments and banks (mostly), universities, trade associations, and even private companies like Google and Facebook. In most cases, especially in the developed world, these work extremely well. I believe my vote has always been counted, no bank has ever stolen my money, and I’m yet to find a way to pay for better grades. So what’s the problem? If an organization controls an important database, it also needs a bunch of people and processes in place to prevent that database being tampered with. People need hiring, processes need to be designed, and all this takes a great deal of time and money.

So blockchains offer a way to replace these organizations with a distributed database, locked down by clever cryptography. Like so much that has come before, they leverage the ever-increasing capacity of computer systems to provide a new way of replacing humans with code. And once it’s been written and debugged, code tends to be an awful lot cheaper.

Confidentiality: advantage centralized databases

As I mentioned, every node in a blockchain independently verifies and processes every transaction. A node can do this because it has full visibility into: (a) the database’s current state, (b) the modification requested by a transaction, and (c) a digital signature which proves the transaction’s origin. This is undoubtedly a clever new way to architect a database, and it really works. So where’s the catch? For many applications, especially financial, the full transparency enjoyed by every node is an absolute deal-killer.

How do systems built on regular databases avoid this problem? Just like blockchains, they restrict the transactions that particular users can perform, but these restrictions are imposed in one central location. As a result, the full database contents need only be visible at that location, rather than in multiple nodes. Requests to read data also go through this central authority, which can accept or reject those requests as it sees fit. In other words, if a regular database is read-controlled and write-controlled, a blockchain can be write-controlled only.

To be fair, many strategies are available for mitigating this problem. These range from simple ideas like transacting under multiple blockchain addresses, to advanced cryptographic techniques such as confidential transactions and zero-knowledge proofs (now being developed). Nonetheless, the more information you want to hide on a blockchain, the heavier a computational burden you pay to generate and verify transactions. And no matter how these techniques develop, they will never beat the simple and straightforward method of hiding data completely.

Robustness: advantage blockchains

A second benefit of blockchain-powered databases is extreme fault tolerance, which stems from their built-in redundancy. Every node processes every transaction, so no individual node is crucial to the database as a whole. Similarly, nodes connect to each other in a dense peer-to-peer fashion, so many communication links can fail before things grind to a halt. The blockchain ensures that nodes which went down can always catch up on transactions they missed.

So while it’s true that regular databases offer many techniques for replication, blockchains take this to a whole new level. For a start, no configuration is required – simply connect some blockchain nodes together, and they automatically keep themselves in sync. In addition, nodes can be freely added or removed from a network, without any preparation or consequences. Lastly, external users can send their transactions to any node, or to multiple nodes simultaneously, and these transactions propagate automatically and seamlessly to everyone else.

This robustness transforms the economics of database availability. With regular databases, high availability is achieved through a combination of expensive infrastructure and disaster recovery. A primary database runs on high-end hardware which is monitored closely for problems, with transactions replicated to a backup system in a different physical location. If the primary database fails (e.g. due to a power cut or catastrophic hardware failure), activity is automatically moved over to the backup, which becomes the new primary. Once the failed system is fixed, it’s lined up to act as the new backup if and when necessary. While all this is doable, it’s expensive and notoriously difficult to get right.

Instead, what if we had 10 blockchain nodes running in different parts of the world, all on commodity hardware? These nodes would be densely connected to each other, sharing transactions on a peer-to-peer basis and using a blockchain to ensure consensus. End users generating the transactions connect to (say) 5 of these nodes, so it doesn’t matter if a few communication links go down. And if one or two nodes fail completely on any given day, nobody feels a thing, because there are still more than enough copies to go round. As it happens, this combination of low cost systems and high redundancy is exactly how Google built its search engine so cheaply. Blockchains can do the same thing for databases.

Performance: advantage centralized databases

Blockchains will always be slower than centralized databases. It’s not just that today’s blockchains are slow because the technology is new and unoptimized, but it’s a result of the nature of blockchains themselves. You see, when processing transactions, a blockchain has to do all the same things as a regular database, but it carries three additional burdens:

  1. Signature verification. Every blockchain transaction must be digitally signed using a public-private cryptography scheme such as ECDSA. This is necessary because transactions propagate between nodes in a peer-to-peer fashion, so their source cannot otherwise be proven. The generation and verification of these signatures is computationally complex, and constitutes the primary bottleneck in products like ours. By contrast, in centralized databases, once a connection has been established, there is no need to individually verify every request that comes over it.
  2. Consensus mechanisms. In a distributed database such as a blockchain, effort must be expended in ensuring that nodes in the network reach consensus. Depending on the consensus mechanism used, this might involve significant back-and-forth communication and/or dealing with forks and their consequent rollbacks. While it’s true that centralized databases must also contend with conflicting and aborted transactions, these are far less likely where transactions are queued and processed in a single location.
  3. Redundancy. This isn’t about the performance of an individual node, but the total amount of computation that a blockchain requires. Whereas centralized databases process transactions once (or twice), in a blockchain they must be processed independently by every node in the network. So lots more work is being done for the same end result.

The bottom line

Naturally there are other ways in which blockchains and regular databases can be compared. We could talk about codebase maturity, developer attractiveness, ecosystem breadth and more. But none of these issues are inherent to the technology itself. So when it comes to a long-term decision on using a blockchain, the question to ask is this: What’s more important for my use case? Disintermediation and robustness? Or confidentiality and performance?

When examined in this simple light, many of the use cases currently under discussion do not make sense. The biggest problem tends to be confidentiality. The participants in a fiercely competitive marketplace will naturally prefer the privacy of a centralized database, rather than reveal their activities to each other. This is especially true if a trusted central party already exists and can provide the neutral territory in which that database can reside. Even though there may be some cost associated with this central provider, this is more than justified by the value of the privacy retained. The only motivation for a shift to blockchains would be aggressive new regulation.

Nonetheless blockchains do have strong use cases, where disintermediation and robustness are more important than confidentiality and performance. I’ll write more about these in a subsequent post, but the most promising areas we’ve seen so far are: (a) inter-company audit trails, (b) provenance tracking, and (c) lightweight financial systems. In all three cases, we’ve found people building on MultiChain with a clear view to deployment, rather than just curiosity and experimentation. So if you’re looking for ways in which blockchains can add genuine value to your business, they might be a good place to start.

Please post any comments on LinkedIn.

Source: https://www.multichain.com/blog/2016/03/blockchains-vs-centralized-databases/

Blockchain

Indian Olympic Medal Winners to Get Free Bitcoin (BTC) and Ethereum (ETH)

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The cryptocurrency platform Bitbns intends to open a systematic investment plan (SIP) in digital assets for Indian athletes who win medals at the ongoing Tokyo Olympics. The exchange will reportedly grant around $2,700 in crypto for gold medal winners.

‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’ And Earn Crypto

The Economic Times reported that Indian athletes at the Olympic Games could receive cryptocurrencies as a gift if they manage to win a medal at the tournament in Tokyo.

The trading venue that will reportedly provide the offer is Bitbns. The first athletes that can get cryptocurrency exposure for free are the winners Mirabai Chanu and PV Sindhu. The former won a silver medal in 49 kg women’s weightlifting while the latter acquired bronze in the women’s singles badminton at the Tokyo Olympics.

Bitbns plans to roll out a SIP account and grant nearly $2,700 in digital assets for Olympic champions, $1,350 for silver medal winners, and $675 for bronze medalists. It will transfer the amount into their accounts, and after completing the Know Your Customer (KYC) norms, the athletes will have exposure to cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin (BTC) and Ethereum (ETH).

The trading venue explained that it would structure the SIP for a 3-5 year period, and thus the medal winners will be able to generate profits in the long term through Bitbns. Gaurav Dahake – the Chief Executive Officer at the platform – noted:


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“Bitcoin and Ethereum have been the best-performing assets in the last decade, and have given exceptional returns and we aim to get our winners indulge in this rewarding journey.”

Indians Love Cryptocurrencies

According to a recent research, Indian residents increased their digital asset investments from $200 million in 2020 to $40 billion for the first six months of this year, indicating that their appetite for cryptocurrencies surged significantly.

What is even more impressive is that Indians, who are well-known gold admirers, started switching their investment strategies from the precious metal to virtual currencies. A local investor explained:

“I would rather put my money in crypto than gold. Crypto is more transparent than gold or assets and yields higher returns in a shorter period of time.”

The survey added that the number of people who trade cryptocurrencies in India is 15 million. It significantly surpasses a well-developed country such as the UK, for example, where 2.3 million individuals have entered the market. Sandeep Goenka – the co-founder of the platform ZebPay – revealed the reasons why the second-most populated country saw this massive increase:

“They find it easier to invest in crypto than gold because the process is so much simpler. You go online, you can buy crypto, you don’t have to verify it, unlike gold.”

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Source: https://cryptopotato.com/indian-olympic-medal-winners-to-get-free-bitcoin-btc-and-ethereum-eth/

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Coinbase halts Bitcoin SV trading after yet another 51% attack

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Bitcoin SV is in trouble once again after Coinbase announced that it will be halting BSV trading on the platform. This update came on the back of a string of attacks the network has been facing since late June. As per the announcement made by the exchange,

“Due to the 51% attack that has occurred on BSV today we are stopping all BSV trading.”

Bitcoin SV was the target of a massive 51% attack early on Tuesday, an attack which was called “the largest since launch” by Blockchair developer Nikita Zhavoronkov. He further claimed on Twitter that the reorganization was 100 blocks deep and wiped out 570k transactions.

The attack was first brought to the community’s notice by CoinMetrics’ Lucas Nuzzi. Arguing that “some serious hashing power” was unleashed on the network early on Tuesday, he revealed that up to three versions of the chain were being mined simultaneously across pools.

Coinmetrics later confirmed that the firm’s own blockchain security monitoring tool FARUM identified the attack.

The Bitcoin Association also confirmed the incident on Twitter, recommending node operators to mark the fraudulent chain as invalid. It’s worth noting, however, that at the time of writing, the Association had released yet another statement on the same.

It said,

“…. believes that this is the same attacker that previously initiated block re-organisation attacks against the BSV network on June 24 and July 1, 6 & 9, 2021.”

Coinbase’s action made waves in the community. However, such steps are perhaps routine for the network now. In the past, BSV has been dropped by top exchanges like Gemini and Binance. It also saw several exchanges block withdrawals and deposits for the asset as liquidity providers suspended access to the token’s liquidity. This was preceded by more attacks in the last week of June and the first week of July.

As far as Coinbase is concerned, the exchange is yet to reveal when it might restart trading services for Bitcoin SV. With many in the community at sixes and sevens, it’s unlikely it’s going to be anytime soon.

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Source: https://ambcrypto.com/coinbase-halts-bitcoin-sv-trading-after-yet-another-51-attack

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Looking To Pull An El Salvador, Spain Considers Bill To Allow Mortgage Payments In Crypto

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Looking To Pull An El Salvador, Spain Considers Bill To Allow Mortgage Payments In Crypto

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Cryptocurrency and blockchain are becoming quite mainstream as of this year and it’s likely that just about any financial transaction will be able to be completed via the use of crypto in the next few years. Of course, there are bodies pushing against the integration given the lack of regulations and the fact that it could help finance illicit acts.

However, the crypto wave is continuing to grow despite all of the recent adversity. And, according to Spanish paper 20 Minutos, Spain could begin to allow persons to pay their mortgages with crypto pretty soon.

The publication reports that Spanish lawmakers are perusing a proposal that would see to the above. The Digital transformation Law, as it’s called, would make it so that crypto and blockchain become legitimized, while tax incentives are being considered for institutions keen on working under the artificial intelligence umbrella, which would include blockchain tech.

Spain’s incumbent People’s Party is intent on having the country’s banking infrastructure catch up to the times in terms of tech and will promote the use of digital currencies, as well as various other transformative technologies. The proposal suggests that the country’s whole mortgage system should undergo reform, in addition to having crypto payments possible.

El Salvador Took The Lead

This comes on the back of El Salvador’s move to accept bitcoin as legal tender. The Central American nation is very pro-crypto in such regard and it appears they have set the stage for other countries to naturalize digital assets, so to speak.

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Where Spain is concerned, the current proposal advises that banks use blockchain as a means of operating the mortgage system while making use of smart contracts for insurance.

“Introduction into the mortgage system – it also proposes that banks use Blockchain technology to manage mortgages, insurance and speed up compensation – it proposes to extend it to insurance policies, with ‘smart contracts’ with conditions depending on the procedures to be followed, the verification processes and potential incidents.“

El Salvador making bitcoin legal tender was a huge move and we aren’t yet to see the full scope, although the country’s population stands at just 6.5 million so they aren’t expected to have that great of an impact on a worldwide scale. Spain is a different case, however.

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Source: https://zycrypto.com/looking-to-pull-an-el-salvador-spain-considers-bill-to-allow-mortgage-payments-in-crypto/

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