'Killing Ethereum' with the co-founder of Solana
Solana co-founder Anatoly Yakovenko discusses crypto's legitimacy beyond Ethereum.
By Zack Guzman
October 31, 2022
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There’s Bitcoin, there’s Ethereum, and then — there’s everything else. A natural question for anyone looking at the crypto space might be why is there everything else?
Just as in life, it turns out there are often multiple solutions to the same problem. In the blockchain space, the most argued about problem for the last few years has been scalability. Would we even be able to fit all of the world’s transactions swiftly and soundly on a blockchain? Right now, the answer is, “No.”
Both blockchains — Bitcoin and Ethereum — are great at being decentralized. They are maintained by independent miners or validators all around the globe. But they leave a lot to be desired when it comes to speed and transaction costs. One way to fix that would be to upgrade each chain to make them more capable of handling more transactions, or build scaling solutions on top of each chain. However, coordinating those types of upgrades can be difficult, precisely because the projects are so decentralized. So what’s the other solution?
Enter the so-called “Ethereum-killers,” or separate blockchains competing to take on Ethereum. There’s Avalanche, Cardano, Solana and those are just the big ones that are all worth multiple billions of dollars. But is it really fair to call them all Ethereum-killers?
“I think it's funny because Solana is such a totally different architecture, different point of view on how blockchains should be built,” the co-founder of Solana, Anatoly Yakovenko, says during an interview for this week’s episode of Coinage. “It's kind of weird to call it an ‘Eth-killer,’ but also — I don’t know, whatever, [the] media likes the term because they like competition.”
In some ways, the competition has gone smoothly for Solana. Boasting far cheaper transaction costs and speeds than Ethereum currently supports, the chain has seen a massive wave of users come into its ecosystem this year. In September, the chain also set a new monthly record level of users trading NFTs, or non-fungible tokens.
If there is one common critique of Solana, it’s that the blockchain goes down quite a bit. It had already gone down multiple times in 2022, and a week after Yakovenko came out to Coinage’s Brooklyn studio for our interview, Solana suffered another system outage.
“It's like stomach churning for me and all the engineers and it just sucks,” he says about the downtimes. “I don't know how to describe that, like your blood-moving-from-all-your-extremities kind of feeling.”
Worse, Yakovenko says it perpetuates misconceptions about the network itself — that the outages are proof of Solana being centralized. In pointing to its unique “proof-of-history” consensus mechanism, Yakovenko refutes that stance, and clarifies that either certain bugs, or spikes in traffic on the network can trigger a cascading failure of validators securing the network.
“Those kinds of bugs are fixable and we've done a lot of the research and engineering to fix them and I think we have a really, really cool and unique solution,” he says. At the core of the solution is an effort from Jump Crypto’s research team, which is, “from the ground up, rewriting the Solana protocol in a separate language.”
The project, called Firedancer, will supposedly reduce the risk of Solana’s downtime to “zero” by verifying the state of Solana in parallel. Yakovenko predicts that the project, which should go live by the end of the year, will deliver “the same reliability as you see on Ethereum today.”
All in all, Yakovenko seems cool and collected even despite the outages this year. The metrics he prefers to track — unique signed transactions on Solana — seemingly haven’t been impacted at all. And even crypto-wide, he contends it’s still so early in the adoption cycle that the concept of an “Ethereum-killer” is already wrong on its face because there’s plenty of upside to go around for multiple chains to co-exist.
“I think the reason why there might be a lot of blockchains is because most of these systems are like backend systems,” the former Qualcomm engineer says. “There's a bit of this kind of ‘Intel inside.’ Who cares about [a processor from] Intel, right, when I'm buying a Windows PC?”
As the Solana community contends, if their developers can deliver on solving the chain’s stability concerns while also continuing to deliver on cheap and fast transitions, it’s not just believable that Solana could catch up to Ethereum, but inevitable.
“Do you think we're there already?” Yakovenko asks with a smile. Solana’s market cap of $11 billion to Ethereum’s of nearly $200 billion would seem to indicate not yet. But then again, market cap is only one way of measuring a chain’s progress. Especially if decentralization, or the lack thereof, is the other common knock on Solana by the Ethereum community.
“They discount everyone else as like being not decentralized or not decentralized enough, when I think us and Cosmos and a bunch of other chains are probably at the level of decentralization that Ethereum was just two years ago,” Yakovenko says, adding that as long as a chain establishes that foundation and is able to add users that it’s anyone’s game to “kill Ethreum.” “I think everyone's got a fair shot, like even Cardano.”
And then came the Ethereum clap back — not just that Solana is quickly gaining ground on Ethereum — but that Ethereum’s own plans to achieve scalability by means of adding its own scaling solutions won’t work. Yakovenko took particular issue with Ethereum’s proposed so-called sharding solution, or the idea of splitting a database to spread the load of transactions.
“It's just, I think, not going to work. At a technical level. I think they're solving the wrong problem,” he says. And maybe that’s not a surprising thing to hear from a guy who’s staked the success of his chain on being the more correct solution to the original problem.
“We just had a different point of view,” Yakovenko says, extending a borrowed metaphor about how the chains differ. “You're trying to pull a cart with like six horses versus 1,000 chickens. Ethereum’s trying to do the 1,000 chickens approach, we are building the very fast horses to pull this cart.”