Blockchain is Enabling More Accessible Supercomputing


With the rise of computation-intensive fields like machine learning, better graphics rendering and, of course, crypto mining, the demand for cheaper computation resources is at an all-time high. Services like Heroku and Google Cloud Platform are great in providing high-level abstractions for their computing resources, but these platforms are deeply centralized and expensive. This is because the whole notion of cloud computing is based off of having large and densely packed special power computing servers which customers can rent for their purposes. That is by definition, centralized. Since there is a great demand for more accessible supercomputing, it’s no surprise that the blockchain community has already disrupted this cloud computing industry, with a fundamentally different architecture called fog computing.

For the end user, fog computing and cloud computing both provide the same interface, but they are different in design because fog computing is a decentralized computing model. Companies specializing in fog computing have already started coming up. Golem and SONM are primary examples of such platforms. Here, I’ll focus on SONM because it has more use cases than Golem, because Golem is specialized for GPU rendering. SONM supports a wide variety of use cases, from providing computing power to train machine learning models to supporting scientific calculations. As stated on their official website, “SONM is offering general-purpose computing cloud-like services (IaaS, PaaS) [Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service] based on fog computing as a backend. Computing power suppliers (hosts) all over the world can contribute their computing power to SONM marketplace.” That’s the cool thing about fog computing. Individual people and organizations can now lend their idle computing resources to those in need. That is the core idea behind the decentralized fog computing model.

The primary use cases of SONM include general backend services for apps. So, just like other cryptocurrency platforms, SONM provides a platform to build decentralized apps (dApps). It also provides decentralized web hosting services, thereby getting into competition with Shift. SONM, as mentioned before, can also provide GPU resources for training and running machine learning models. The fields of blockchain and AI thus benefit from each other. Another use case involves video rendering, which is perhaps the most intensive part of CGI film-making. SONM can also provide geo distributed resources available in any ISP around the globe, thereby acting as a content delivery and video streaming network. What’s more, it can also be used for other entertainment purposes, acting as a game server for multiplayer gaming – the possibilities are endless.

All these were few of the advantages for SONM customers, but it seems that the advantages for the suppliers are just as great. SONM will enable a whole new kind of business of lending computing power, so you can technically earn money from your old school cabinet-computer by “lending” it, i.e., by connecting it to SONM network. As mentioned in SONM’s documentation, “SONM makes a bridge between traditional cloud Customers and modern crypto-currency miners, bringing them to a unified marketplace.” Thus, “Now all resources inside [your] PC are earning money and paying for themselves.” And perhaps earning a profit.

However, note that SONM is a project that is very much in progress. The core SONM repository on GitHub has just about 250 stars as of this writing so it will take time to be popular among just developers before it becomes popular to the general public. But it is making continuous efforts to accelerate its fog computing game; recently SONM funded a Fog Computing Challenge with a total prize fund of $200,000. Time will tell what value these kinds of challenges bring to the SONM platform.

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Saurabh Chaturvedi is a freelance developer and technical writer with a keen interest in blockchain, Bitcoin, and other cryptocurrencies.

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