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The Avax Roadmap: The Path To 100,000 Subnets | Patrick O'Grady, Aaron Buchwald & Stephen Buttolph

By Lightspeed

Published on 2024-04-30

Explore Avalanche's ambitious roadmap to 100,000 subnets, featuring groundbreaking developments in blockchain architecture, consensus mechanisms, and the revolutionary HyperSDK.

The notes below are AI generated and may not be 100% accurate. Watch the video to be sure!

The Avalanche Architecture: A Vision for Scalable Sovereignty

Avalanche's architecture is designed with a bold vision - to create a platform that enables individual sovereignty and security for blockchain communities while facilitating efficient interconnectivity. This approach stands in stark contrast to more centralized blockchain models, aligning closely with the original ethos that drew many early adopters to cryptocurrencies.

Patrick O'Grady, a key figure in the Avalanche ecosystem, emphasizes that the network's design is rooted in the belief that many in the crypto space desire to build their own communities and incentive structures from scratch. However, Avalanche aims to solve a critical problem that has plagued such isolated blockchain communities - the inability to easily communicate or share resources with other networks.

The Avalanche team is now entering what they consider the most exciting phase of development. After years of technological maturation across the broader crypto ecosystem, including significant advancements in areas like BLS signatures pioneered by Ethereum, Avalanche is poised to deliver on its promise of a highly interconnected network of sovereign blockchains.

Subnets: The Building Blocks of Avalanche's Vision

At the core of Avalanche's architecture are subnets - independent blockchain networks that can be customized for specific use cases while remaining connected to the broader Avalanche ecosystem. The vision for subnets is ambitious, with the team aiming for a future where 100,000 or more subnets coexist and interact seamlessly.

Subnets offer a unique value proposition in the blockchain space. They allow projects to launch their own chains with customized parameters and rules, while still benefiting from the security and interoperability of the broader Avalanche network. This model aims to strike a balance between sovereignty and scalability that has been elusive in many blockchain ecosystems.

O'Grady explains that the next phase of Avalanche's development involves rethinking the network's architecture to better cater to subnets. The goal is to make Avalanche the premier platform for launching custom blockchains, offering out-of-the-box connectivity and interoperability that sets it apart from other blockchain ecosystems.

The Role of the C-Chain in Avalanche's Ecosystem

While subnets form the backbone of Avalanche's scalability strategy, the C-Chain (Contract Chain) plays a crucial role in the overall ecosystem. The C-Chain, part of the primary Avalanche network, serves multiple important functions:

  1. Security Anchor: The C-Chain benefits from the full security of the Avalanche network, making it an ideal place for high-value transactions or applications that require maximum security.

  2. Liquidity Hub: It acts as a focal point for users across different subnets to conduct high-value trades or access more secure liquidity pools.

  3. Interoperability Layer: The C-Chain can serve as a meeting ground for users and applications from various subnets, facilitating cross-subnet interactions.

  4. Exchange Integration: For cryptocurrency exchanges, the C-Chain provides a single, secure integration point. This allows exchanges to support a wide range of Avalanche-based assets without needing to integrate with each individual subnet.

O'Grady highlights that while some subnets may attempt to serve similar purposes, the C-Chain's role as part of the primary network gives it unique advantages in terms of security and accessibility. This creates a tiered system where users and developers can choose the level of security and functionality that best suits their needs.

Reinventing Subnets: ACP-13 and ACP-77

The Avalanche team has recognized the need to evolve the subnet model to better serve the ecosystem's growing needs. This realization has led to the development of two key Avalanche Consensus Proposals (ACPs): ACP-13 and ACP-77.

ACP-13 was the first step in reimagining how subnets operate within the Avalanche ecosystem. It proposed significant changes to the subnet launch process, aiming to lower barriers to entry and increase flexibility for subnet creators. The key changes proposed in ACP-13 include:

  1. Removing the requirement for subnet validators to also be validators on the primary Avalanche network.
  2. Eliminating the need for subnet validators to stake a minimum of 2,000 AVAX tokens.
  3. Allowing subnets to define their own tokenomics and validator incentive structures.

These changes were designed to make it easier and more cost-effective for projects to launch their own subnets, potentially accelerating the growth of the Avalanche ecosystem.

Building on the foundation laid by ACP-13, ACP-77 takes the concept of subnet flexibility even further. Aaron Buchwald, another key figure in the Avalanche development team, explains that ACP-77 aims to provide "better fault isolation for subnets" and enable "generic ability to define your own tokenomics, your own proof of stake tokens, how they interact very, very easily."

The core objectives of ACP-77 include:

  1. Removing economic constraints around creating subnets.
  2. Enabling more diverse and customizable tokenomic models for subnets.
  3. Improving the overall flexibility and sovereignty of individual subnets.

These proposals represent a significant shift in how Avalanche approaches subnet design and deployment. By reducing barriers to entry and increasing customization options, the Avalanche team hopes to foster a more diverse and innovative ecosystem of subnets.

The New Fee Mechanism: A Continuous Approach

One of the most significant changes proposed in ACP-77 is a new fee mechanism for subnets. This mechanism moves away from the current model of upfront capital requirements and introduces a continuous fee structure based on resource usage.

Stephen Buttolph, another member of the Avalanche development team, explains the rationale behind this change: "A chain or a subnet, blockchain, whatever, should be charging fees for the services that it provides." This approach aims to more accurately align costs with the actual resources consumed by each subnet.

The new fee mechanism works on a principle of dynamic pricing based on network usage. Instead of requiring a large upfront stake of AVAX tokens, subnet operators will pay ongoing fees based on the resources they consume on the primary network. This model is designed to be more efficient and fair, allowing subnets to scale their costs in proportion to their actual usage and success.

Key features of the new fee mechanism include:

  1. Dynamic Pricing: Fees will adjust based on overall network usage, ensuring efficient allocation of resources.
  2. Resource-Based Charging: Subnets will be charged based on specific resources they use, such as P-Chain storage or processing time.
  3. Lower Entry Barriers: By removing large upfront capital requirements, the new model makes it easier for smaller projects to launch subnets.

This fee structure is expected to make Avalanche more competitive and attractive for a wider range of blockchain projects, potentially accelerating the growth of the subnet ecosystem.

The HyperSDK: Unlocking High-Performance Blockchain Development

A major technological advancement in the Avalanche ecosystem is the introduction of the HyperSDK. This software development kit represents a significant leap forward in blockchain development tools, offering a highly optimized framework for building custom blockchains on Avalanche.

Patrick O'Grady describes the HyperSDK as "one very opinionated one that's focused on performance." The key features of the HyperSDK include:

  1. High Performance: The SDK is designed to deliver exceptional transaction throughput and low latency.
  2. Customizability: While optimized for performance, the HyperSDK still allows for significant customization of blockchain parameters and functions.
  3. Ease of Use: The SDK abstracts away many of the complex aspects of blockchain development, allowing developers to focus on their specific use cases.

O'Grady emphasizes that the HyperSDK is not meant to be a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, it provides a highly optimized starting point for developers who prioritize performance and are willing to work within certain design constraints to achieve it.

The development of the HyperSDK reflects a broader strategy within the Avalanche ecosystem to provide developers with powerful, flexible tools for building high-performance blockchains. This approach contrasts with some other blockchain platforms that focus on providing a single, monolithic chain with predefined parameters.

Vrix: Pushing the Boundaries of Blockchain Performance

One of the most exciting developments to come out of the HyperSDK is Vrix, a breakthrough in blockchain performance that has demonstrated the potential for processing up to 100,000 transactions per second (TPS) with a network of just 50 nodes spread across five geographic regions.

Vrix represents a fundamental rethinking of how blockchain consensus and execution can be structured. It builds on the concept of decoupled state machine replication, an idea that has roots in computer science research dating back to the early 2000s but has been largely overlooked in the blockchain space until recently.

Key innovations in Vrix include:

  1. Decoupled Consensus and Execution: By separating the process of ordering transactions from their execution, Vrix can achieve much higher throughput than traditional blockchain architectures.
  2. Optimized Resource Usage: Vrix significantly reduces the computational load on consensus nodes, allowing for more efficient scaling.
  3. Novel Attack Mitigation: The Vrix paper outlines several potential attacks on decoupled systems and proposes mechanisms to prevent them.

The performance achieved by Vrix is particularly impressive given the relatively small number of nodes used in the demonstration. This suggests that the architecture could potentially scale to even higher throughput levels with larger networks.

Implications for the C-Chain and Future of the EVM

The advancements made with the HyperSDK and Vrix naturally raise questions about the future of Avalanche's C-Chain, which currently uses a more traditional EVM (Ethereum Virtual Machine) architecture. The development team acknowledges that there are ongoing discussions about potentially migrating the C-Chain to a HyperSDK-based architecture in the future.

However, such a migration would be a complex undertaking with significant implications for the existing Avalanche ecosystem. The team emphasizes that any potential changes to the C-Chain would need to carefully balance performance improvements with maintaining compatibility for existing applications and users.

Key considerations for the future of the C-Chain include:

  1. Backwards Compatibility: Ensuring that existing dApps and smart contracts continue to function after any upgrades.
  2. Performance vs. Familiarity: Balancing the potential performance gains of a HyperSDK-based system with the familiarity and ecosystem support of the EVM.
  3. Migration Challenges: Addressing the technical challenges of migrating the entire state and history of the C-Chain to a new architecture.

The Avalanche team sees the ongoing development of subnets and the HyperSDK as valuable testing grounds for innovations that could eventually benefit the primary network, including the C-Chain. However, they stress that any major changes to the C-Chain would require careful consideration and community consensus.

The Future of the EVM in the Blockchain Ecosystem

The discussion around potential changes to the C-Chain touches on a broader debate within the blockchain community about the future of the EVM. While the EVM has become a de facto standard for smart contract platforms, with a large ecosystem of developers and applications, some argue that its limitations may hinder future innovation and scaling.

The Avalanche team offers a nuanced perspective on this debate. They acknowledge the significant network effects and developer familiarity that the EVM enjoys but also see value in exploring alternative architectures that could offer superior performance or functionality.

Key points in this debate include:

  1. Network Effects vs. Innovation: Balancing the benefits of EVM compatibility with the potential for breakthrough innovations in blockchain architecture.
  2. Developer Experience: Considering how changes to the underlying virtual machine could impact developer workflows and tooling.
  3. Ecosystem Fragmentation: Weighing the risks of fragmenting the smart contract ecosystem against the potential benefits of more specialized platforms.

The team's approach with the HyperSDK and subnets reflects a strategy of allowing for experimentation and innovation while still maintaining strong support for EVM compatibility where it makes sense. This balanced approach could position Avalanche to benefit from both the existing EVM ecosystem and future breakthroughs in blockchain technology.

Customization vs. Performance: Striking the Right Balance

One of the central themes that emerges from the discussion is the balance between customization and performance in blockchain design. The Avalanche team recognizes that these two goals can often be at odds with each other, with highly customizable systems often sacrificing some degree of performance, and vice versa.

The HyperSDK represents an attempt to strike a balance between these competing priorities. While it imposes certain constraints to achieve high performance, it still allows for significant customization in areas that matter most to many blockchain applications.

Key aspects of this balance include:

  1. Opinionated Design: The HyperSDK makes certain design decisions upfront to optimize for performance, which may limit some forms of customization.
  2. Flexible Core Functionality: Within the constraints of the SDK, developers still have significant freedom to define their blockchain's core functionality and economic model.
  3. Trade-off Transparency: The team emphasizes the importance of being clear about the trade-offs involved in different design decisions, allowing developers to make informed choices.

This approach reflects a broader philosophy within the Avalanche ecosystem of providing powerful tools and frameworks while still allowing for significant innovation and experimentation at the subnet level.

The Role of Subnets in Blockchain Innovation

Throughout the discussion, it becomes clear that the Avalanche team sees subnets as more than just a scaling solution. They view subnets as a crucial playground for blockchain innovation, allowing developers to experiment with new ideas and models without being constrained by the limitations of a single, monolithic chain.

This vision for subnets aligns with a broader trend in the blockchain space towards more modular and specialized architectures. By allowing for the creation of purpose-built blockchains that can still interoperate within a larger ecosystem, Avalanche aims to foster a new wave of innovation in blockchain applications and tokenomics.

Key benefits of this subnet-centric approach include:

  1. Reduced Risk: Experiments and innovations can be tested on individual subnets without risking the stability or security of the entire network.
  2. Specialized Optimization: Subnets can be optimized for specific use cases or applications, potentially achieving better performance than a one-size-fits-all approach.
  3. Rapid Innovation: The ability to quickly launch and iterate on new blockchain designs could accelerate the pace of innovation in the space.

The team's commitment to making subnet creation and management as accessible as possible, through initiatives like the HyperSDK and the proposed changes in ACP-13 and ACP-77, underscores the central role they expect subnets to play in Avalanche's future.

Interoperability and the Future of Multi-Chain Ecosystems

While much of the discussion focuses on the technical aspects of Avalanche's architecture and development tools, the underlying vision is one of a highly interoperable, multi-chain ecosystem. The team sees Avalanche's approach to subnets and cross-chain communication as a key differentiator in an increasingly crowded blockchain landscape.

The emphasis on interoperability is evident in several aspects of Avalanche's design:

  1. Warp Protocol: This cross-subnet communication protocol is seen as a critical component for enabling seamless interaction between different subnets and the primary network.
  2. C-Chain as a Hub: The role of the C-Chain as a meeting ground and liquidity hub for different subnets highlights the importance of having common touchpoints within the ecosystem.
  3. Standardized Development Tools: By providing standardized tools like the HyperSDK, Avalanche aims to make it easier for developers to create interoperable applications across different subnets.

This focus on interoperability reflects a belief that the future of blockchain technology lies not in a single, dominant chain, but in an ecosystem of specialized, interconnected networks. Avalanche's architecture is designed to support this vision while still providing the benefits of a unified platform and security model.

Challenges and Considerations for Mass Subnet Adoption

While the vision of 100,000 subnets presents exciting possibilities, it also raises significant challenges that the Avalanche ecosystem will need to address. The team acknowledges several key areas that will require ongoing attention and development:

  1. Scalability of the Primary Network: As the number of subnets grows, ensuring that the primary network can efficiently manage subnet registrations and cross-subnet communication becomes crucial.
  2. User Experience: Making it easy for users to navigate and interact with a large number of subnets without confusion or friction is a significant UX challenge.
  3. Security Considerations: With a proliferation of subnets, educating users about the varying security models and risks associated with different subnets becomes increasingly important.
  4. Economic Sustainability: Ensuring that the economic model of the primary network remains viable as more activity moves to subnets is a key consideration.

The team's ongoing work on improving the subnet creation and management process, as well as their focus on providing powerful development tools, is aimed at addressing many of these challenges. However, they recognize that achieving the vision of a thriving ecosystem of thousands of subnets will require continued innovation and community engagement.

The Impact on Developers and the Broader Blockchain Ecosystem

The Avalanche team's vision and technological developments have significant implications for blockchain developers and the broader ecosystem. By providing a platform that allows for both high-performance, specialized chains and compatibility with existing standards like the EVM, Avalanche aims to cater to a wide range of developer needs and preferences.

Key impacts for developers include:

  1. Increased Flexibility: The ability to launch custom subnets with tailored parameters gives developers more options for optimizing their blockchain applications.
  2. Performance Improvements: Tools like the HyperSDK and innovations like Vrix offer the potential for significant performance improvements over traditional blockchain architectures.
  3. Lowered Barriers to Entry: Proposed changes to subnet creation and management could make it easier for smaller teams or individual developers to launch their own blockchains.

For the broader blockchain ecosystem, Avalanche's approach could drive innovation in several areas:

  1. Tokenomics: The ability to easily create custom tokens and economic models on subnets could lead to new experiments in blockchain incentive structures.
  2. Scalability Solutions: Avalanche's subnet model offers a unique approach to blockchain scalability that could influence other projects in the space.
  3. Interoperability Standards: As Avalanche develops its cross-subnet communication protocols, it could contribute to the broader conversation about blockchain interoperability standards.

The team's openness to experimentation and their commitment to providing powerful, flexible tools position Avalanche as a potential catalyst for innovation in the blockchain space.

Conclusion: Avalanche's Vision for a Scalable, Sovereign Blockchain Future

The discussion with the Avalanche team provides a comprehensive look at their vision for the future of blockchain technology. At its core, this vision is about creating a platform that enables true blockchain sovereignty while still benefiting from the network effects and security of a larger ecosystem.

Key takeaways from the discussion include:

  1. Subnets as the Future: Avalanche sees a future where thousands of specialized blockchains (subnets) coexist and interact within a unified ecosystem.
  2. Balance of Performance and Flexibility: Through tools like the HyperSDK, Avalanche aims to offer both high performance and significant customizability for blockchain developers.
  3. Evolving Architecture: The team is continuously refining Avalanche's architecture to better support the growing subnet ecosystem, as evidenced by proposals like ACP-13 and ACP-77.
  4. Innovation in Consensus: Developments like Vrix showcase Avalanche's commitment to pushing the boundaries of blockchain performance and scalability.
  5. Interoperability as a Key Focus: The emphasis on cross-subnet communication and the role of the C-Chain highlight the importance of interoperability in Avalanche's vision.

As Avalanche continues to develop and refine its technology and ecosystem, it presents a compelling vision for how blockchain technology could evolve to support a diverse range of applications and use cases. While challenges remain, the team's commitment to innovation and their balanced approach to performance, customization, and compatibility position Avalanche as a significant player in shaping the future of blockchain technology.

Facts + Figures

  • Avalanche aims to support up to 100,000 subnets, each functioning as an independent blockchain within the ecosystem.
  • The C-Chain serves as a focal point for liquidity and a secure integration point for exchanges within the Avalanche ecosystem.
  • ACP-13 and ACP-77 propose significant changes to how subnets operate, including removing the requirement for subnet validators to stake 2,000 AVAX tokens.
  • The new fee mechanism proposed in ACP-77 is based on continuous, usage-based charging rather than large upfront capital requirements.
  • The HyperSDK is a highly optimized framework for building custom blockchains on Avalanche, focusing on performance while allowing for customization.
  • Vrix, a breakthrough in blockchain performance built with the HyperSDK, has demonstrated the potential for processing up to 100,000 transactions per second.
  • The Vrix demonstration was conducted with a network of 50 nodes spread across five geographic regions.
  • The Avalanche team is considering the potential future migration of the C-Chain to a HyperSDK-based architecture, though this would be a complex undertaking.
  • The primary Avalanche network, including the C-Chain, is secured by validators staking a minimum of 2,000 AVAX tokens.
  • Warp Protocol is a key component of Avalanche's cross-subnet communication strategy, enabling seamless interaction between different subnets and the primary network.
  • The Avalanche team sees subnets as a crucial playground for blockchain innovation, allowing for experimentation without risking the stability of the entire network.
  • The development of the HyperSDK was partly motivated by the desire to move beyond simply deploying multiple instances of the EVM.
  • Avalanche's approach to blockchain design involves balancing customization and performance, with the HyperSDK making certain design decisions upfront to optimize for speed.
  • The team acknowledges that there are trade-offs between performance and compatibility when considering potential changes to the C-Chain or the broader adoption of HyperSDK-based architectures.

Questions Answered

What are Avalanche subnets?

Avalanche subnets are independent blockchain networks that can be customized for specific use cases while remaining connected to the broader Avalanche ecosystem. They allow projects to launch their own chains with customized parameters and rules, while still benefiting from the security and interoperability of the broader Avalanche network. Subnets are designed to offer a balance between sovereignty and scalability, enabling a diverse range of blockchain applications to coexist within the Avalanche ecosystem.

How does the new fee mechanism proposed in ACP-77 work?

The new fee mechanism proposed in ACP-77 introduces a continuous, usage-based charging system for subnets. Instead of requiring a large upfront stake of AVAX tokens, subnet operators will pay ongoing fees based on the resources they consume on the primary network. This dynamic pricing model adjusts based on overall network usage, ensuring efficient allocation of resources. Fees are charged based on specific resources used, such as P-Chain storage or processing time. This approach aims to lower entry barriers for smaller projects and make the cost of running a subnet more proportional to its actual usage and success.

What is the HyperSDK?

The HyperSDK is a software development kit created by the Avalanche team to enable high-performance blockchain development. It offers a highly optimized framework for building custom blockchains on Avalanche, focusing on delivering exceptional transaction throughput and low latency. While optimized for performance, the HyperSDK still allows for significant customization of blockchain parameters and functions. It abstracts away many complex aspects of blockchain development, allowing developers to focus on their specific use cases. The HyperSDK represents Avalanche's strategy to provide developers with powerful, flexible tools for building high-performance blockchains.

What is Vrix and how does it achieve high transaction throughput?

Vrix is a breakthrough in blockchain performance developed using the HyperSDK. It has demonstrated the potential for processing up to 100,000 transactions per second with a network of just 50 nodes spread across five geographic regions. Vrix achieves this high throughput by implementing decoupled state machine replication, separating the process of ordering transactions from their execution. This approach significantly reduces the computational load on consensus nodes, allowing for more efficient scaling. Vrix also includes novel mechanisms to mitigate potential attacks on decoupled systems, addressing security concerns that arise with this architecture.

How does Avalanche plan to ensure interoperability between subnets?

Avalanche plans to ensure interoperability between subnets through several key mechanisms. The primary tool for this is the Warp Protocol, which enables cross-subnet communication and allows for seamless interaction between different subnets and the primary network. Additionally, the C-Chain serves as a meeting ground and liquidity hub for different subnets, providing a common touchpoint within the ecosystem. The Avalanche team is also focusing on developing standardized development tools, like the HyperSDK, to make it easier for developers to create interoperable applications across different subnets. This emphasis on interoperability reflects Avalanche's vision of a highly interconnected, multi-chain ecosystem.

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