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Solana review: a crypto whose time has come

Solana has done the impossible. It’s created a blockchain that runs as fast as a centralised database. But it’s not all double rainbows, as you’ll see in this review.

Harry Hamburg
Harry Hamburg
24 min read
Solana review: a crypto whose time has come

Note: price information taken on the 22nd of August 2021.

What’s the greatest invention of all time?

I’ll give you a clue, the answer is contained in the question.

That’s right. The greatest invention of all time… is time itself. Or, at least, the ability to accurately measure it.

Without an accurate way to tell the time, none of our technologies would work… modern communication, modern banking, air and space travel, satellites, phones, computers, GPS, TV, the internet… you name it.

To give an example, phone networks work by splitting data up into packets and then reassembling it. The data travels across different networks, and if all these networks aren’t keeping to the same exact time, this data will be lost.

In fact, phone networks need to be so accurate they can only lose the equivalent of one second every 3,000 years. Any more and your WhatsApp message would never get through, nor would the email you had to send in its place.

GPS needs even more accuracy. If the clocks it relies on lost just one second in 140,000 years, it would throw your GPS position off by 300 metres.

Even electricity grids are based on the accuracy of clocks.

The atomic clocks that keep all these things accurate calculate time by measuring the change in energy states of atoms, usually caesium.

These clocks are so accurate they only lose one second every 300 million years. And as we develop ways to make these clocks even more accurate, everything that relies on them will become more accurate too.

(Don’t worry, this is all related to Solana, I promise…)

Of course, clocks – as I’m sure you know – have their downsides.

Before clocks we ate when we were hungry and slept when we were tired.

Now we eat when the clock tells us to and sleep when the clock tells us to and get up when it’s time to go to work – no matter how tired we may feel.

In fact, in 1934, historian and philosopher Lewis Mumford argued that clocks had more impact on modern society than any other invention in history.

(Well, in 1934’s “modern society” at least.)

Here’s what he said:

The effect of the mechanical clock is more pervasive and strict: it presides over the day from the hour of rising to the hour of rest. When one thinks of the day as an abstract span of time, one does not go to bed with the chickens on a winter’s night: one invents wicks, chimneys, lamps, gaslights, electric lamps, so as to use all the hours belonging to the day…

Abstract time became the new medium of existence. Organic functions themselves were regulated by it: one ate, not upon feeling hungry, but when prompted by the clock: one slept, not when one was tired, but when the clock sanctioned it.

So if you’re ever running late… or worried about getting old… or want to sleep when you’re tired or eat when you’re hungry… just remember, all of this “time” nonsense is made up anyway.

Although, I don’t think that argument would cut it with your boss/friends/significant other/kids/body.

So I guess timekeeping is a double-edged sword. There’s no denying we are slaves to it. But without it, we wouldn’t have a functioning society… or any of the technologies we rely on to improve our lives.

And speaking of technologies that improve our lives… let’s look into Solana.

(How was that for a transition? Yeah, kind of lame, I know.)

Solana brings clocks to crypto

Alright.

So that was all a very roundabout way of introducing Solana’s main feature: its decentralised clock.

Or as Solana puts it, Proof of History (PoH).

Its creator, software engineer Anatoly Yakovenko, and many of Solana’s team come from Qualcomm.

Qualcomm played, and continues to play, a huge part in the mobile phone and wireless internet revolution.

Think mobile phone chipsets… 3G, 4G, 5G networks… and the systems that power them.

If you remember our intro, mobile phone networks rely on accurate timekeeping. Without it, they’d fall to pieces.

Blockchains don’t.

From Solana’s whitepaper:

Current publicly available blockchains do not rely on time, or make a weak assumption about the participants abilities to keep time.

Each node in the network usually relies on their own local clock without knowledge of any other participants clocks in the network. The lack of a trusted source of time means that when a message timestamp is used to accept or reject a message, there is no guarantee that every other participant in the network will make the exact same choice.

But Yakovenko realised that if there was a way to decentralise accurate timekeeping, decentralised networks (blockchains) could run as fast as centralised networks.

So instead of processing around 10 transactions per second (TPS), like Bitcoin or 15 TPS, like Ethereum 1.0, they could process up to 710,000 TPS.

Or, as Solana puts it:

From Anatoly's previous experience designing distributed systems at Qualcomm, Mesosphere and Dropbox, he knew that a reliable clock makes network synchronization very simple. When synchronization is simple the resulting network can be blazing fast, bound only by network bandwidth.

Anatoly watched as blockchain systems without clocks, such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, struggled to scale beyond 15 transactions per second worldwide when centralized payment systems such as Visa required peaks of 65,000 tps. Without a clock, it was clear they'd never graduate to being the global payment system or global supercomputer most had dreamed them to be.

When Anatoly solved the problem of getting computers that don’t trust each other to agree on time, he knew he had the key to bring 40 years of distributed systems research to the world of blockchain. The resulting cluster wouldn't be just 10 times faster, or a 100 times, or a 1,000 times, but 10,000 times faster, right out of the gate!

In other words, Solana merges the advantages of a centralised network – speed – with the advantages of a decentralised network – censorship resistance and self-sustainability.

Oh, and on that note, Solana is fast.

The commonly quoted figure is 50,000 TPS.

But Solana says it could theoretically process up to 28.4 million TPS with a 40 gigabit internet connection.

And that number will, in theory, scale even higher as computer hardware inevitably improves over… time.

It all sounds great in theory, right?

But how does it hold up when we look into it more deeply?

Well, that’s what this review is for. So let’s get going…

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