What is Tour de SOL? Eric Williams. Episode 3: No Sharding Podcast

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Andrew Hyde: Welcome to Solana. We are a super fast blockchain project, bringing proof of history and in turn 100,000X speeds to the blockchain ecosystem. This podcast is a discussion between our core staff, industry leaders and top contributors to our open source project. Find out more@solana.com that’s S-O-L-A-N-A.com. You can also follow us on Twitter @Solana. Now on to the show.

Andrew Hyde: Welcome to the Solana podcast. Today I am joined with Eric Williams. Eric, hello.

Eric Williams: Hello. How are you Andrew?

Andrew Hyde: I’m doing very, very well. Today we’re talking all about Tour De Sol. First of all, let’s jump into what you do at Solana and how you got involved.

Eric Williams: I guess I got involved through Anatoly. I’d known him quite awhile. We both lived in Ocean Beach, California right after we graduated from undergraduate, I met him there. We did a lot of body surfing, played a lot of Halo2. It was a long time ago, but we became good friends, friends ever since. Between then and now I went off, studied physics, got interested in particle physics. Then kind of moved into medical physics, this background in analytics.

Eric Williams: Then transitioned to the Bay area where I got involved in more data science. Was still in the health space until about two years ago where I was hanging out with Anatoly. We were talking about blockchain and distributed systems. He was making an argument that he thought he knew a way how to keep track of time in a trustless distributed system, which is very interesting.

Eric Williams: So he wrote me in with that. Luckily around that time, a couple of other friends and super talented people in our network were free and joined the conversation. It turned into the beginning of Solana. For me it’s building really incredible tech with really good friends. Can’t get better than that.

Andrew Hyde: Yeah, that’s an amazing story. Everybody I’ve talked to has had a very similar- … There’s a culture of friendship years ago. You, I think I’m hearing a little bit of background noise in that it’s familiar to me. Because I have lived in Switzerland as well.

Eric Williams: Oh yeah.

Andrew Hyde: I think I heard that there’s this amazing thing that happens where you can recognize ambulance sounds and such.

Eric Williams: That’s right.

Andrew Hyde: But are you in Switzerland because of Cern?

Eric Williams: I have lived out here before. I lived out here for three years during graduate school working at Cern when I was studying particle physics. It’s hard not to fall in love with Switzerland. It’s kind of a fairy tale place, especially if you like the outdoors and cycling and running and what not. But I left, I graduated, I went to New York, San Francisco.

Eric Williams: But while I was out here in Switzerland, I met what would become my wife. She is involved in Global Health Switzerland. Specifically Geneva is a big global health center. So she wanted to go back to school, and so now I’m back out here in Switzerland with her. She does her Master’s in international development studies.

Andrew Hyde: You’re the chief scientist, right of Solana?

Eric Williams: Yeah.

Andrew Hyde: Is that correct?

Eric Williams: Yes, that’s correct.

Andrew Hyde: That the official title?

Eric Williams: Yeah, official title, that’s right.

Andrew Hyde: Have you ever had that title before?

Eric Williams: Not quite. I had chief data officer very briefly, but I think chief scientist sounds a little better.

Andrew Hyde: Than the first one.

Eric Williams: Yeah.

Andrew Hyde: So Solana success depends on validation and validators around the world. So we’re launching Tour De Sol, and I think you’re the Peloton leader on this one. I mean we’ve got a huge cycling culture at Solana, so I’m going to use some cycling references. Sorry listeners that aren’t into the spandex. But we’ve got this event that we launched and I’m really excited about it. But I want you to hear in your words what is Tour De Sol.

Eric Williams: Yes. Well as you mentioned, it’s our cycling themed incentivized testnet really. So last year around this time myself, and I think our whole team followed along with Cosmos’s game of stakes, and were very inspired by what they put together there. This was an adversarial testnet, first of its kind. Bringing third party validators on board to test their network before it went live.

Eric Williams: So we knew we wanted to do something similar. We wanted to put our own spin on it as well. But the core value I think in this sort of event it’s hard to find elsewhere. That is, for me it’s one of the main reasons for it is a way for us to actually get to know and validate our community. For them to get to know us and to really come together to build this together.

Eric Williams: Because as you mentioned, validators are really the backbone of these proof of stake systems. It’s also a way to distribute tokens, while at the same time kicking the tires and stress testing the tech, stress testing the network. You know, I think it’s a very elegant approach that checks off a couple really important boxes on the way to launching a stable, secure network with a happy validator base.

Andrew Hyde: So it’s at Solana.com/tds if you want to check out the site while you’re listening. So help me explain. Do explain it like it’s five for me. What is a validator?

Eric Williams: Yeah. So a validator is a note on the network. It’s a computer running on the network. They are in charge of processing transactions. So that could be simple payments. They check that everything’s aligned in the ledger to make those payments. Or it could be kind of a global state execution. Just think of any execution on your computer. It’s changing zeros to ones or ones to zeros and it changes the current live state.

Eric Williams: They are also in charge of voting on the current version of the ledger. So they, as a group of validators, determine which ledger is the source of truth ledger. They put up capital as stake, so they have a bit of skin in the game. They put up this capital, or in our case these Solana tokens to earn the right to validate transactions and vote on the ledger. They can also accept delegated tokens.

Eric Williams: So the idea here is they can function as self-sustaining businesses. Basically charging a commission on the interest earned by putting passive token holders’ stakes to work. They are a core part of the technical infrastructure as well as a core part of the economic and infrastructure that is going to make these systems work.

Andrew Hyde: That’s a great definition of it. The basic, basic level is it’s a GPU connected to the Internet that somebody set up with a couple lines of Linux code, right?

Eric Williams: Yeah. That’s right. It’s a program running on someone’s computer that runs the Solana wallet, the Solana ledger.

Andrew Hyde: With Solana do we have any technical limitations? Can I spin up a Raspberry Pi or try Tour De Sol?

Eric Williams: Especially when we get to Tour De Sol and on main net. Well, I guess to be competitive in Tour De Sol, and to be a player on main net, you’re going to want GPU. So you’re gonna want some, a little bit more accelerated hardware than a Raspberry Pi as far as validation goes. We’ll probably get to this a little bit later in the discussion.

Eric Williams: But we have another network participant or network entity called a replicator, which we anticipate much lower hardware requirement. It’s focused on storage. So again, Raspberry Pi might not be the most ideal system. But off the shelf laptop or any computer with some extra storage space should be able to participate there. Again bring that participant into the economy of Solana as well.

Andrew Hyde: So as an aggregate, Solana is a global supercomputer made up of a lot of different types of computers and somebody might be creative in it. It doesn’t mean that you have to have like a Rackspace and dedicated storage. As a project, we really rely on community. So what’s your biggest ask as running Tour De Sol, what’s your biggest ask to the community?

Eric Williams: To be honest, my big biggest ask is just get involved, reach out, give us your opinions. We want to involve people as much as possible. We really want validators to feel part of Solana and to take their input. For example, we actually posted the stage one of Tour De Solano. I think I’ll probably talk about the stages or the components shortly.

Eric Williams: But we posted the compensation design for stage one very recently. So this is basically what the different categories that we’re going to be measuring from the validators during this first part of the tour. How much the token compensation would be from those various categories. We posted those on, and we reached out to the community and said what do you think about this? Can we get some feedback? We got some really great interaction there.

Eric Williams: So just from that taste, my ask is keep it coming. There’s lots of ways to get involved at a higher level. As far as getting involved with the network in general, there’s Tour De Sols we’re talking about. Which is primarily validator focused with quantitative rewards, qualitative rewards, and some total rewards. We’re also kicking off a bounty program at the same time. Which is not necessarily validator focused, but these are going to be general bounties, bug bounties.

Eric Williams: You can actually go onto Github now and take a look at some of the preliminary ones. If you look at the issues in the Solano repo, I think they’re tagged as good first issues. But these are going to be various levels. So you know primarily developer focused. Then as I mentioned before, another way to get involved is replicators. It’s a lower barrier to entry and those are going to be introduced later in the tour, but they’re coming.

Andrew Hyde: If I just want to talk Kodislaw, go to Github, check out good first issues. If I want to email somebody or talk to somebody in a forum, we have that Solana.com. Then if I want to sign up, it’s on the Tour de Sol page, which is Solana.com/tds.

Eric Williams: Yes, that’s right. I think the top of the funnel, the Solana.com will take care of all of that. Below that you’re going to be routed to either forums at Solano.com. You’ll also probably be pointed in Discord. Both of those will provide a lot of information and support.

Andrew Hyde: Yeah. The Discords’ got a lot of very friendly resources and people that will help you out.

Eric Williams: Yeah.

Andrew Hyde: As a developer succeed as a replicator or as a validator. Let’s talk about the stages of Tour de Sol.

Eric Williams: Sure.

Andrew Hyde: So right now we’re like, who’s interested? Then we are going to be like stage one start. What’s it going to be like from there?

Eric Williams: Yeah, the flag will drop with the first stage one. We’re thinking beginning of August, a couple of weeks now. But the general design is when we were putting this together, we wanted to incentivize and really build this experience around the aspects of the network that are most important. So we ended up splitting up into three stages. Each stage is probably going to run for about a week of go time. After that there’ll be two maybe three weeks of reflection on how it went.

Eric Williams: I’m pretty sure the engineering team’s going to have some stuff to work on. I think everyone’s going to want to take a step back and then the next stage will start. So we’re hoping that the first stage kick off beginning of August, and second stage beginning of September, and then third stage beginning of October. The first stage, the general idea is simple transaction processing. This is all about throughput. So the Solana team will be generating a lot of transactions. The validators in this stage will be working to process those transactions.

Eric Williams: The various kind of reward categories there are going to be around things like most rewards collected. What I mean by that is as a validator and you’re processing these transactions, you’re voting on the ledger, you’re earning protocol rewards doing this. During the stage these will be a testnet token rewards, kind of Chuck E. Cheese dollars if you will. That will be converted, the the specific amount that you collect won’t be converted.

Eric Williams: But those points will be used to determine your ranking. Then you can go and see on our rewards design how much compensation that will give you. We’ll also be monitoring and compensating for things like confirmation latency. How quickly you can turn these transactions around and also availability, so uptime. We also have some qualitative categories during this stage and all stages. Things like best attack, best team player, community content.

Eric Williams: Because I think during all these stages we want contributions. We want to see lock explorers or validator monitoring tools. This is something we love to incentivize to. So first stage, how many transactions can we throw through the system until it falls down? Second stage, it’s going to be similar, it’s going to be about throughput, but we’re going to be focusing more on smart contract executions.

Eric Williams: So you can look at the repo. Now we have a toy model of a decentralized exchange, just a demo. We’re likely going to be spamming the network with exchange transactions that are a little bit more complicated than just a simple peer to peer payment simulation. But the general idea will be the same. Then finally stage three, this is the big shebang. This is where we introduced replicators. I haven’t talked too much about them, but basically they provide the role of providing storage on the network.

Eric Williams: If Solana network is running full tilt at design, I think we could generate up to something like four or five petabytes of data a year. If any single node had to support that sort of storage, it would be highly centralized and not very interesting blockchain I don’t think. So replicators, you can think of them almost as bit torrent design. Due to Solanas proof of history and a way to track ordering and passage of time, we can stripe the data and distribute it across multiple nodes that we call replicators. With no single replicator or having to replicate the entire ledger.

Eric Williams: But across the network we can get multiple factors of redundancy of the single ledger. So it solves that big data problem. So for stage three we’re going to introduce replicators, and we’re going to have a more realistic main net simulation. Again that’s scheduled for beginning of October I think.

Eric Williams: But that’s the idea of the stages. The other thing I would just want to add in there is, we want to be very iterative with this. So we want to collect a lot of feedback after each stage. We want to revise anything that we may have missed the mark on as we go forward. We’re just gonna kind of play this by ear and give it our best shot.

Andrew Hyde: Yeah, I think community involvement is super important, but also just setting it up so that everybody knows this is a community event. This is not a, let’s ride a bike as fast as possible or that. This is like a, let’s talk about bikes. Let’s talk about bike design. Let’s really get into it. Let’s learn, let’s teach each other. Let’s make a better bike so that when we actually have the real race, which is main net, that we actually have a product [crosstalk 00:16:00]

Eric Williams: It’s more like Critical Mass than Tour de France. If you’re familiar with Critical Mass in San Francisco. It’s when everybody comes out and wreaks havoc on the streets of San Francisco, I think once Friday in a month or something.

Andrew Hyde: Do you have any guesses on how fast the testnet’s going to be, stage one?

Eric Williams: I think we’re going to be looking at maybe bursts of up to 50,000 tps. But right actually today we’re doing an internal dry run to test that out. Next week we’re going to start off a validator dry run. So we want validators who are interested in participating in general to join us next week. There will be more announcements on this on the forums.

Eric Williams: Join us next week for the test run to see what we can actually handle right now. I think it’s going to be a little bit of an exploratory process to figure how high we can go. But at the very least we’ll try to put some sprint stages or sprint times in there and really crank it up to see how it explodes.

Andrew Hyde: I was pitching Solano to somebody the other day, and I said 50 transactions a second. I forgot to say- [crosstalk 00:17:08] and they were like, how are you doing 50 a second its only at 15 that’s amazing. You’re like four times as fast. I’m really interested to see how everybody reacts seeing that speed because it is ridiculous.

Eric Williams: Yeah, this is one of the things being a layer one smart contracts platform, transactions per second have almost lost meaning because there’s been so much noise in this space around that metric in particular. So it’s hard to to talk about something like that without either cringing yourself or just kind of seeing the eye roll.

Eric Williams: So what we’ve really tried to do is just say, hey, come look, come do it yourself. Either just go to our Github and download the node and join the testnet right now. Or follow along with Tour de Sol. Trust, but verify or don’t trust but verify. Just check it out for yourself.

Andrew Hyde: Yeah. I’m an Oregon kid. I grew up in the Pacific northwest in the states and Steve Prefontaine, Bill Bowerman, are legends in the running world there. I think there was a Bowerman quote about, “if you really gotta be bold, write something on the bottom of your shoes. You can get in front of somebody and then they can see your message. But don’t talk right. Just show, be humble. If you think you’re gonna win the race, just write it on the bottom of your shoe.”

Eric Williams: I like that.

Andrew Hyde: It’s just a fun way to just say, when I think about our speed, because you know how many conferences that we’ve been to that it’s been another faster blockchain that’s pretty decentralized or has this one critical flaw?

Eric Williams: Yeah, exactly. I might steal that for a blog post or something. The title, it could be the bottom of our shoes or something.

Andrew Hyde: Yeah, please do. I think there’s a humble pride you have to have. It’s hard to have that with software development when you’re dealing with actual data scientists and chief scientists. So let’s talk more about Tour de Sol. How do you get involved? Does each stage have a deadline to sign up or is it-

Eric Williams: So once you sign up, once you go through the process, you’ll be officially registered for any or all of the stages you want to participate in. But for each stage we’re going to do a roll call before, just because we have your name and your information and you’ve expressed interest. We’re going to make sure right before and say, hey, are you actually ready for game time?

Eric Williams: But yeah, stage one registration is open now. I think it’s open until July 21st if I remember correctly.

Andrew Hyde: That sounds good to me.

Eric Williams: Yeah.

Andrew Hyde: That’s what I’ve read.

Eric Williams: Right now it’s basically a post on the forum. You go there, you fill out a little form with your name information. We’re going to follow up before the launch date with more detailed information, do a KYC process. Which we’ll need to do to actually collect rewards anyway. But yeah, it’s live as of right now.

Andrew Hyde: What type of people do you think, I mean if you’re gonna say, let’s fast forward to October, November, and I look back at Tour de Sol. What type of people signed up? Are you looking for hobbyists? Are you looking for companies that own data centers? Like who’s a Tour de Sol-

Eric Williams: Yeah, so maybe the obvious answers warrant a little bit of everybody just to get the diversity of background and experience. I think what we’ve seen so far is, and this is to be honest, one of the most rewarding and kind of coolest part of this effort I’ve seen so far is, just how awesome everyone has been who is interested in this.

Eric Williams: There’s a really strong and open community of validators out there, largely out of the cosmos network. But this space, it’s for proof of stake validation is really exploding right now. The community, if you’re not involved with it, I recommend checking it out. Because everyone’s very happy to help, happy to get involved. It’s been great just to see how many- … all these smart people come and participate and join this thing that we’re putting together as we go.

Eric Williams: That being said, again, I think one of the unique aspects of our network is we have the validation path to participate. But we also have the replication path. So that sort of participant again, I would want to see anybody with extra hard drive space. I remember back in undergraduate when it was the first time I was exposed to T one line and bit coin was exploding at the time.

Eric Williams: Everybody was part of that community, some whether they knew it or not, and they were just downloading files. They didn’t know they were actually helping that whole system work. But honestly that’s the level that I think will be great to be involved in, and a replicator, college kids with extra hard drive space. Anybody who is interested in dipping their feet into the crypto economy without heavy upfront investment. I think it’s a really unique onboarding path and I’d love to see a lot of people get involved that way.

Andrew Hyde: I see a lot of students getting involved. I see a lot of people that are running data centers that are just curious about what’s next getting involved. So education is community. We’re here to help. We’re here to chat and I think other people in the community are just as interesting.

Eric Williams: Yeah, absolutely.

Andrew Hyde: So any final thoughts on Tour de Sol, wishes once what you’re nervous about?

Eric Williams: I’m not sure. I’m nervous so much as just excited because it’s really going to be fun I think. It’s hard to know what’s going to go wrong when. But we know things will go wrong and so it’s going to be fun jumping on those things. I guess there’s a little bit of nervous there. It’s like showing somebody something that you’ve written maybe that you’re a little bit unsure about.

Eric Williams: I guess it’s kind of opening the kimono a bit as far as this is the first time we’re really gonna encourage people or have people dig into the code and incentivize them for tearing it apart. So it comes with a little bit of nerves, but I’m really looking forward to that as well.

Andrew Hyde: Yeah, we do have the seven innovations, the technical innovations. Which they’re going up on our blog every like twice a week right now. We’re having blog post describing how the tech works, what the innovations are. As a team, the core team, that’s been asked a lot of for over a year went into hiding almost.

Andrew Hyde: It felt like as an outside observer, like I’ve been into your telegram channel for almost a year and a half, two years now. It seems like you got really excited and were to launch or about to announce to the world. They said wait, I think we need to work on this a little bit. Then he went into hiding, radio silence and then he came up being like, oh it works.

Andrew Hyde: Yeah, think that’s actually pretty accurate, is one part “crypto winter” I think was a blessing in a lot of ways. There was a lot of distractions last summer for better or worse. So when things quieted down, it was actually pretty nice. Our tagline since the start was we’d focus on tech, leave us alone. You know, admittedly our strength is not in the marketing is not in going out and being loud about this stuff. So I think we got into our stride for the last six to 12 months just putting our heads down executing. Now we are coming up for air and saying, okay, check it out. Please have a look to see what we did and let’s get this thing up and running.

Andrew Hyde: After Tour de Sol, we’ll know if it’s ready for game time or not.

Eric Williams: Yeah. That’s the idea. Is Tour de Sol to transition directly into a live network.

Andrew Hyde: In the crypto space? To me this is the most exciting part of a project.

Eric Williams: Yes.

Andrew Hyde: Is that everybody’s around together. You have done the work, you’re testing it out. You’re either gonna sink or swim pretty quickly.

Eric Williams: That’s right.

Andrew Hyde: I just think it’s a very amazing and very fun time. How do you feel about Solana in recruiting or involvement from the community? Should people try to be working with us? Do you think we’re going to hire people that are validators on Tour de Sol?

Eric Williams: Yeah, I think we’ve hired two or three people just from their Github interaction thus far. That’s been without any outreach as far as, hey, we’re looking for people. I think this is probably the best way we can find talent is say, hey, how can you help us? Or what can you do? Just demonstrate it through this event where you can also be compensated for it. So for sure we’re going to be keeping an eye out for that. And if anyone is interested in contributing further or becoming part of the team, just please reach out and let us know. We’re always happy to talk.

Andrew Hyde: Yeah. Just wanting to voice that to the community. If you’re listening to this, it’s a super friendly company that really does hire people from Github, from solving really good issues.

Eric Williams: Yeah. We’ve hired from Github, we’ve also hired from telegram, believe it or not.

Andrew Hyde: That’s a surprise to hear.

Eric Williams: Yeah, and it’s worked out great. We’re very open to community involvement.

Andrew Hyde: Yeah. So I’ve been at Solana for just over a month now. I’ve just been blown away by how kind and smart every single person that I’ve interacted with it is. This is our first real conversation we’ve had so I want to extend that to you. Thank you so much. It’s been amazing to get to know you, and I’m really looking forward to Tour de Sol.

Eric Williams: Thanks a lot Andrew.

Andrew Hyde: If somebody wants to follow up with you directly, best way to do that?

Eric Williams: eric@solana.com.

Andrew Hyde: Very, very simple.

Eric Williams: Yeah.

Andrew Hyde: Awesome.

Eric Williams: All right, thanks a lot Andrew.

Andrew Hyde: Thank you so much.

Eric Williams: Take care.

Andrew Hyde: Hey everybody. Thanks for listening to this episode. If you have any questions for our guests or want to continue this discussion, please check out our website at Solana.com. That’s S-O-L-A-N-A.com. There are links to our discord where most of our communication happens in the company.

Andrew Hyde: Also, you should check out our Github page where we post all of our code for you to check out and even help out with. Github.com/Solana-labs. You can also follow us on Twitter @Solana. Thanks for listening. See you next week.