Disclosure: Smith + Crown was a compensated advisor to this project.
Amidst the diverse themes marking the ICO space in 2017, a central one was the emergence of solutions to the core technological challenges of the decentralized internet, frequently known as web 3.0. Nearly $350 million dollars have been contributed to the ICOs of companies building core infrastructure for the decentralized web, illustrating market enthusiasm for this subject. Bluzelle promises to contribute another core element of the web 3.0 stack: high-speed, distributed database management where users can upload, read, edit and delete structured data encrypted and sharded throughout a network of contributors. Given the potential for Bluzelle’s decentralized database to outperform existing centralized competitors in terms of speed, security, and scalability, Bluzelle aims to find a sizeable audience across both blockchain-focused and traditional communities.
Project Overview: A Core Component of the Web 3.0 Tech Stack
The contributions to the development of the distributed web were substantial in 2017. In November, Blockstack completed a $50 million ICO for its distributed browser and internet name service project. Earlier in 2017, Filecoin completed one of the largest ICOs of all time at $262 million, while Storj completed a $30 million ICO earlier in 2017, both for distributed file storage and management.
Despite the progress these contributions represent towards the realization of a truly decentralized web, one crucial element of Web 3.0 that has remained centralized has been the data management and storage layers of web and other applications that, via high-speed read and write activity on distributed data, underpin a wide range of platforms and features.
Many existing distributed data storage projects focus on files and media, rather than structured data in a high-performance environment, and they ultimately have different requirements. File storage systems are designed to host large documents, and in the case of sharded, distributed storage, documents are sliced randomly, making for slower retrieval and the impossibility of searching within documents to retrieve individual elements. Database storage, by contrast, consists of small, fixed, homogeneous fields organized into searchable groups, with rapid retrieval as well as the ability to write or overwrite data being essential requirements. Given the particular requirements of database applications, and the lack of decentralized database systems, DApps have until now had little choice but to employ centralized databases.
While Bluzelle is not formally a blockchain, it is a fully decentralized system, built using blockchain principles, such as the consensus mechanism for its proprietary swarm model of sharded data storage that comes from blockchain systems. Bluzelle is designed to be fully interoperable with blockchains. If Bluzelle achieves its vision, it could represent a significant contribution towards a fully distributed web and support existing distributed application developers while quite likely finding an audience for its database extending considerably beyond the decentralized world.
Bluzelle’s distributed database system claims three advantages relative to traditional centralized databases, specifically performance, reliability, and scalability. Bluzelle achieves this by maintaining its data within a swarm model of grouped nodes. Sharded data is shared across nodes within swarms, with consensus achieved within swarms through a system modelled on the RAFT mechanism, rather than across the entire network. Unlike blockchains where each node stores the entire chain, Bluzelle’s nodes store only portions of the entire database, further allowing for lighter loads and increased speed within the network.
A central feature of Bluzelle’s database is the way its proprietary sharding and swarming techniques permit modularity and flexibility, allowing different features such as levels of security or latency of retrieval times to be modified to meet particular demands. General security within Bluzelle’s system is addressed by a 2D sharding practice that encrypts data then slices it both horizontally and vertically before distributing the shards in a non-deterministic manner across different swarms within the network. This greatly decreases the potential rewards of hacking attempts. Within this system, Bluzelle can modulate performance according to different parameters or user requirements, such as locating frequently requested data near consumers or retrieving data in parallel to increase speed, or storing important data fields separately and subjecting them to higher performance standards. An additional advantage of Bluzelle’s sharding and swarming techniques is how they allow Bluzelle to address a major shortcoming of many database systems, the ability to scale efficiently. Distributing data across swarms allows for easier, responsive expansion that does not require preemptively activating additional servers, as is the case within an Amazon environment, for instance.
The Bluzelle Token Ecosystem
Bluzelle is currently planning on using two tokens. The Bluzelle Network Token (BNT) is an internal token spent by consumers and earned by producers within the network. BNTs can be exchanged on a 1:1 basis with the ERC-20 BLZ that exists to allow external trading of Bluzelle tokens upon other exchanges. This dual token model was developed in light of the scaling limitations of the Ethereum network, and the network’s inability to process payments rapidly enough to handle the range of microtransactions required as users and producers continuously earn and spend small amounts of BNT tokens within the network. However, details on the BNT token haven’t been finalized–in many ways, it represents the initial solution to the scaling limitations all application-specific ERC-20 tokens are facing.
The pricing model for read-write services won’t be 100% deterministic, and instead will employ maximums (like price limits) based on network activity. Broadly, data users will compensate the nodes storing and updating their data. Any user can withdraw BNT into BLZ to sell on a secondary market. Exact pricing limits haven’t been revealed. As structured, the BLZ token’s price should reflect the demand for using the Bluzelle network.
For its own revenue, Bluzelle intends to charge a modest transaction fee (yet to be specified) in BLZ at the moment of exchange between BNT and BLZ. Funds collected in this manner are expected to support maintenance and ongoing development of the network beyond funds raised in the ICO, which are themselves forecast to adequately provide for an initial four years of product development.
In the January token sale, Bluzelle will be offering 165 million tokens from its total token supply of 500 million, representing ⅓ of the total supply. The sale target is $19.5 million, representing a $60 million valuation for the token economy. A further 10% has been reserved for distribution to developers and a community growth fund. 15% will be allocated to early in investors and advisors, 15% to founders, with 27% placed in the company’s reserves.
Of funds raised 55% will be allocated to research and development, 20% to sales and marketing, 10% to network expenses, 10% to operations, and 55% to accounting, legal, and compliance. A Big Four accounting firm has been engaged by Bluzelle to audit the use of ICO funds.
The State of the Technology
Bluzelle, which was originally founded in Vancouver in 2014, before moving primary operations to Singapore in 2016, spent much of its early life building enterprise level technology infrastructure and applications for the financial industry. These experiences led to an appreciation of the importance, and challenges, of data management in the blockchain context, and ultimately led to the emergence of Bluzelle’s decentralized database service. At present, the project is nearing operation stage, with an initial MVP targeted for December 2017, and updates and additions expected to be released on a four-month schedule through the latter part of 2019. The general trajectory of Bluzelle’s development is envisioned as moving from limited functionality on a single swarm towards more complex and feature-rich operations, with both additional functionality and additional swarms being added progressively. The team expects ICO funds to be sufficient for four years of development.
The Bluzelle Team
Bluzelle is led by a team with a range of industry experience. CEO and co-founder Pavel Bains has experience in technology, finance, and project management, while CTO and co-founder Neeraj Murarka is an experienced engineer and systems architect with both logistics and management experience. Advisors include angel investor Gil Penchina, Database advisor and founder of the Apache Cassandra database Prashant Malik; Ethereum Developer Alex Leverington; and Ryan Fugger, the creator of Ripple, amongst others. Early venture-stage backers of the company include Lun Partners, Kenetic Capital, and True Global Ventures. Overall, the strength of the team, advisors, and early backers strongly suggests Bluzelle will be able to assemble the appropriate resources for the challenges ahead.