For the blockchain community, the issue of scalability and congestion has been one of the most hotly-debated topics of 2018. If blockchain is to truly enter into the mainstream and bring transformative effects to bear on global business and enterprise, the network must be capable of scaling accordingly. In the race to provide a network that is fit for adoption by the mass market, one particular solution to the scalability problem currently facing the blockchain industry stands out: side chains.
The introduction of side chains to a network is the optimal solution for scaling the blockchain so that it can be fit for commercial and corporate use.
Side chains function as independent blockchains, which are attached to a “parent” blockchain, or “mainchain”. The most efficient way of decreasing the congestion caused by increased traffic on the mainchain is to add a series of parallel side chains which have the capability of independently processing groups of similar transactions. Like reducing traffic on a main road by adding slip roads, the introduction of side chains on a blockchain effectively reduces the congestion that comes along with a higher volume of users, so that transactions are not slowed down.
The implementation of side chain technology offers a number of advantages over other current blockchain scalability solutions, including sharding; new consensus protocols – which often require a tradeoff between security, trust on nodes, performance; and faster network layers. Side chain integration offers a uniquely immediate solution to scalability issues on the blockchain, as more chains can work together even under current technological infrastructures.
Side chains, outside of the immediacy of the solution, also offer better resource segregation for P2P layers, data storage, and computation. This would mean that dApps running on the network will not interfere with one another as they will use different resources. Side chains will additionally allow for higher levels of customisation of dApps as each independent side chain will allow for different settings to best fit the applications supported upon it. This feature of side chain technology makes it possible to group similar types of transactions together onto the same blockchain, logically separating related transactions and making parallel processing much easier.
At present, there are many actors seeking to address the scalability issue facing the blockchain industry in order to move beyond first and second generation blockchain projects that can process around 15 Transactions Per Second (TPS). A number of projects, including Zilliqa and EOS have had visible success this year, launching testnets that achieved thousands of Transactions Per Second (TPS). Recently, aelf’s testnet incorporated sidechains, witnessing almost 15,000 TPS. The results of each project showcase exciting developments in the blockchain community’s approach to scalability issues.
Since overcoming issues of scalability may serve as the final step in making blockchain appropriate for mass adoption – affecting everything from commercial and financial to governmental organisations, everyone working on scalability solutions is helping blockchain into the mainstream. For mainstream adoption to become a reality, it is important to view blockchain as a singular system or ecosystem, where vertical scaling should be prioritised. Within such a system, a multi-chain structure will allow multiple blockchains to perform at the same time while each still possesses the possibility of horizontal scaling. Looking ahead, sidechain technology has serious potential to offer businesses transaction speeds which surpass those they currently enjoy on more traditional networks.
In order to make such a sophisticated multi-chain system work, consisting of functional side chains and a secure mainchain, a number of things must be ensured in the technology underpinning the system: cross-chain P2P communication; finality of the state of each chain; and security dependency from each chain. Multichain systems can be home to extremely fast transaction speeds if, within the system, delegated network nodes are run in clusters where computation and database are conducted on different computers. This means that as well as each individual chain working parallel to the others, each cluster node can be quickly scaled up as required – giving more reflexivity to the entire network.
In its current state, first and second generation blockchain can be likened to one long highway, full of peak hour traffic, with thousands of cars packed into a frustrating gridlock. The most efficient way of decreasing the congestion caused by high traffic is to add a series of parallel slip roads, running in the same direction. If the question of blockchain’s scalability is all that’s preventing the technology from realising its ambitious but achievable goal of mass commercial adoption, the implementation of smart, customisable, interoperable side chains may serve as an answer.