At the Genesis London blockchain conference held in February by Binary District, Cornell professor, cryptocurrency expert, and computer scientist Emin Gün Sirer said in an interview that a study done by prestigious university Cornell has shown the Ethereum blockchain network is currently more decentralized than bitcoin.
Ever since the debut of Ethereum in 2015, false information about the technology and the foundation of the Ethereum blockchain network have circulated around cryptocurrency communities, leading some investors, users, and developers to believe the Ethereum network is inferior to other major blockchains in terms of security and decentralization, given its flexibility and ability to handle large-scale decentralized applications.
A study done by Cornell professor Sirer and researchers at the institution has shown that less Ethereum nodes are linked to institutions or organizations than bitcoin, which means that more nodes on the Ethereum network are operated by individuals rather than companies.
“The data shows that the [Ethereum] nodes are both in the latency space, and also geographically more distributed round the world. Ethereum nodes tend to come from all sorts of places, smaller networks, and homegrown entities, as opposed to Bitcoin nodes, which tend to be located in data centres. Our study found that the majority of Bitcoin nodes, 56%, are in data centres,” said Sirer.
Ethereum is structurally and fundamentally different to bitcoin because its network is optimized to handle decentralized applications (dapps). The Ethereum network should be able to process thousands of transactions per second in the long-term to support dapps in the size of Facebook or Twitter, as Coinbase co-founder Fred Ehrsam previously noted.
In an interview with South Korea’s biggest mainstream media outlet JoongAng, Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin emphasized that full scalability of Ethereum could take 3 to 5 years, depending on the implementation process of innovative scaling solutions like Plasma and Sharding.
Sharding significantly optimizes the process of mining through the proof-of-work (PoW) consensus algorithm by eliminating competition amongst miners. Instead of miners spending computing power to win individual blocks, miners can cooperate to solve mathematical problems so that computing power is not lost.
Plasma is a highly anticipated solution that is currently being developed by the open-source community of Ethereum developers that can allow various blockchains within the Ethereum network to handle different tasks, to reduce the burden on the main Ethereum blockchain.
At the conference, Sirer also noted that hardware-based technologies such as Intel SGX can help public blockchains like bitcoin and Ethereum to settle thousands of transactions per second. SGX is existent on all Intel devices such as laptops, and with it, users can send zero-confirmation transactions in a peer-to-peer manner, without straining the main blockchain. Sirer explained:
“SGX is a very exciting technology, and there are other trusted computing technologies, not SGX, but by other vendors, that provide similar guarantees. What that gives you is the ability to know what protocol somebody else is following. That is a fundamental leap.”
In the long-term Sirer said that a rapidly increasing number of institutions, conglomerates, retailers, and companies in general will shift towards the blockchain, moving away from centralized databases. But, because problems surrounding blockchains are very technical, Sirer echoed the viewpoint of Buterin in saying that it could take many years of development and significant resources to properly commercialize blockchain technology.
“Blockchains actually constitute an enormous opportunity to rethink the way we build backend systems. Instead of building things in the old fashioned way, with centralised databases that talk to each other, that need to be reconciled, that need to be kept in sync, we can actually now build much more efficient distributed databases that share information naturally, in a seamless manner,” Sirer added.