This interview is part of our new series where we interview the world's leading thought leaders who are building the future of cloud computing.
We recently sat down with Blair Maclennan, International Community Manager at blockchain-based cloud computing startup iExec to find out more about what the future holds for cloud computing.
1. What's the story behind iExec?
The idea was started by 2 researchers in parallel and distributed computing. Their original work was with using large and loosely-coupled distributed computing infrastructures to support highly demanding and data-intensive science. Most of the distributed computing was provided by volunteers however, and there was no reliable payment system. Even if payment was incorporated, there lacked a mechanism to ensure that computations were executed correctly by contributing parties.
Now, with blockchain technology, more possibilities have opened up. Smart contracts can be used for orders and payments on the iExec Marketplace. Blockchain networks provide a system for carrying out decentralized consensus over computational results, incentivising providers and preventing bad actors. This mechanisms are part of the the iExec “proof-of-contribution” protocol. The characteristics of blockchain technology enabled the concept of decentralized cloud computing to become a reality.
With that, the research project was presented at Devcon2 back in 2016, followed by a successful ICO in 2017. And from there, iExec, the decentralized cloud, was born.
Today, iExec is a registered company with 25 employees. iExec also now has the support of French government from both a policy standpoint, as well as financial, with investment from French public investment bank BPI.
2. What problem are you solving for customers?
iExec combines the best services that each cloud provider has to offer. Developers and enterprises have access to CPU, GPU, datasets, applications and decentralized oracles all from the same interface. They can also choose to run confidential computing tasks on secure privacy-preserving machines using hardware enclaves, that will keep their data safe.
iExec offers enterprises a multi-cloud environment. This allows them to customize an infrastructure that is specific to their business goals, having access to all cloud service providers within a single interface. This also means no subscription and no fees taken from a centralized entity.
We wanted to create an open market where the price is freely decided by the market. Where there are peer-to-peer transactions between the stakeholders and where payments are managed by blockchain smart contracts.
This service gives enterprises more flexibility in choosing and switching between cloud providers and helps them achieve their compliance goals while providing lower risk. If one service fails, a business can continue to operate with other cloud computing providers.
4. You also recently announced a product update, what can you tell us about these updates?
iExec has integrated GPU computing the marketplace. This is required for fields such as deep learning, that has heavy computing requirements. So with V4, AI developers can train and develop their models faster, for example.
Thanks to the new iExec Sidechain, computing resources can now be freely traded with zero gas fees and less latency, overcoming Ethereum’s long-time scalability problem.
iExec V4 introduced bags-of-tasks, allowing developers to deploy and manage applications at scale, with the highest efficiency.
Finally, the new version brings a new and improved user interface and UX, partnering with the likes of Portis Wallet and Moonpay for simple fiat and crypto on-ramps. The goal with these improvements is to make the on-boarding process as simple as any other non-blockchain web application.
4. You recently announced a major partnership, what can you tell us about this?
To deliver GPU computing, iExec has onboarded Genesis Cloud as a new cloud computing provider. Genesis Cloud supplies high-performance GPUs at an ultra low cost. Their fleet of machines is particularly well-suited for machine learning, visual effects rendering, big data analytics or cognitive computing.
The fifth-largest utility company worldwide, EDF, will use access these GPUs from Genesis Cloud through iExec to run its compute-intensive simulators. EDF had recently deployed GPUSPH on iExec. This application is a popular simulator for modeling fluids developed and used by EDF, which requires heavy GPU power.
5. Where will iExec be 5 years from now?
Over the coming years, we target non-blockchain companies who want to leverage the power of decentralization, similar to the work we’ve carried out with EDF. For companies already within the blockchain industry, we’ll work with them on solutions they need to scale their services.
For further ahead into the future, iExec is building the infrastructure in anticipation for the next digital era. When we think about future IoT or ‘edge computing' economies, it is sure that we will need a layer for interoperability, in order to allow these different technologies to work together.
For example, if we consider the possibility of fully-fledged ‘smart cities’, we’ll see millions of interconnected devices, each built and owned by thousands of different companies. This means there will not exist just one single hardware standard, nor one single software standard. A solution is needed to ensure that the fragmented infrastructures and networks will be able to work together. This is where iExec comes in.
In general blockchain is forecast to be the tool used to allow the convergence of new technologies. iExec brings together the technologies of blockchain, IoT, AI and trusted computing in order to provide highly valuable services.