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Validated | The Toly Episode

By Validated

Published on 2023-10-10

Solana co-founder discusses network stability, performance optimizations, and balancing innovation with reliability in this in-depth conversation

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

Anatoly Yakovenko on Solana's Evolution, Design Philosophy, and Future

In this episode of Validated, host Austin sits down with Anatoly Yakovenko, co-founder of Solana, for an in-depth discussion on the state of the Solana network, its design philosophy, and future developments. The conversation covers a wide range of topics, from the network's early challenges to its current optimizations and the balance between innovation and stability.

Solana's First Major Outage: A Turning Point

Yakovenko begins by reflecting on Solana's first significant outage in September 2021, which occurred shortly after the network gained widespread adoption. This event marked a crucial moment in Solana's development, highlighting the need for further optimizations and improvements.

"This was actually a spot of the design that we left almost like intentionally, not well-defined," Yakovenko explains. He emphasizes that the team had anticipated potential issues but chose to address them as they arose rather than overengineering solutions from the start.

The Trade-off Between Innovation and Stability

One of the key themes throughout the conversation is the balance between pushing technological boundaries and maintaining network stability. Yakovenko argues that being overly conservative in the early stages of blockchain development can limit future improvements:

"If you try to solve all the problems all at once, you end up with something that either doesn't work, or takes too long to build, or is very extremely conservative."

This approach, he contends, allows for greater flexibility and the ability to address issues as they emerge in real-world conditions.

Solana's Design Philosophy: Speed and Global Synchronization

Yakovenko delves into the core design principles that guided Solana's development. The primary goal was to create a system that could synchronize information globally at the fastest possible speed, providing fair and open access to data.

"What I thought was cool was the idea that you can use this same Byzantine fault-tolerant systems to give you guarantees that information is synchronized around the world in a fair way and as fast as possible," he explains.

This focus on speed and global synchronization sets Solana apart from other blockchain projects that prioritize settlement or store of value functionalities.

The Importance of Solving Multiple Hard Problems Simultaneously

A crucial aspect of Solana's development strategy was tackling multiple challenging engineering problems concurrently. Yakovenko argues that this approach, while risky, was necessary to create a truly next-generation blockchain:

"If you have eight hard problems, each one of them has a 50% chance of having a bug. The probability of you not having any bugs is one in like 256, just virtually zero."

By addressing these issues simultaneously, Solana aimed to avoid the limitations that come with incremental improvements to existing systems.

Optimizing for Hardware Limitations

The conversation turns to the challenges of optimizing blockchain performance within the constraints of existing hardware. Yakovenko draws on his experience at Qualcomm, where he worked on balancing resources across different parts of a chip:

"Those are fun optimization problems. You're trying to schedule a bunch of work and then make sure that you don't overuse one resource or another, and like, you're optimally distributing the work and stuff like that."

This background in embedded systems proved crucial in developing Solana's high-performance architecture.

The Evolution of Solana: From Launch to Present

Yakovenko reflects on the progress Solana has made since its launch in March 2020. He highlights the continuous optimization efforts and the growing team of engineers working on the project:

"When we launched, we wrote the code as well as we could have. But it's obviously not going to be as efficient as 40 engineers that are optimizing it for 20 years."

Recent releases, such as version 1.16, have brought significant improvements in network stability and performance, demonstrating the ongoing evolution of the Solana ecosystem.

Balancing New Features with Network Performance

As Solana continues to grow, the team faces the challenge of introducing new features while maintaining the network's high performance. Yakovenko explains their approach:

"The reason code gets added is because it's better than the previous code, right? Like every release is better than the previous one."

He emphasizes that new additions are carefully considered based on their impact on validators, developers, and overall network stability.

The Role of Public Goods in Blockchain Development

The conversation touches on the importance of public goods in the blockchain ecosystem. Yakovenko discusses the balance between commercial products and public infrastructure:

"These are like public good versus commercial good kind of question. And like when you have like what was really cool about DeFi summer, you have these companies like Compound and Aave and stuff, they built commercial products, which was like the lending protocols, but they also built a bunch of public goods, which is the governance modules and things like that."

This balance, he argues, is crucial for the long-term success and sustainability of the ecosystem.

AI and Blockchain: Future Synergies

Yakovenko shares his thoughts on the intersection of artificial intelligence and blockchain technology. He sees significant potential in AI-assisted code generation and verification:

"I think AI is awesome for code generation. I think this is like an amazing toolkit that's going to make software much, much faster than before like software development."

However, he cautions that we are still far from having AI systems capable of solving complex engineering problems independently.

Focusing on Practical Use Cases

As the conversation wraps up, Yakovenko emphasizes the importance of focusing on practical, immediate use cases for blockchain technology:

"I'm actually more focused on trying to do stuff that's obvious today. I think that's just like really, really important to try to get users to go do the things that are already work at scale. And those are payments, very, very simple kind of thing."

He believes that solving real-world problems and reducing friction in existing financial systems should be a priority for the blockchain industry.

The Future of Solana: Community and Innovation

Looking ahead, Yakovenko expresses optimism about the Solana community's ability to innovate and build new solutions. He notes that the ecosystem has been quick to respond to new ideas and challenges:

"As soon as I post something, there's like a team that's picking it up already. They tell me, hey, we're working on Chrome. Like the shit. Yeah. Like Chrome sequencers, that kind of stuff."

While acknowledging the need for continued development, Yakovenko stresses the importance of finding and solving problems that are significant enough to drive mainstream adoption of crypto technologies.

Conclusion: Solana's Ongoing Journey

Throughout the conversation, Anatoly Yakovenko provides valuable insights into the philosophy and technical considerations that have shaped Solana's development. From its initial design choices to ongoing optimizations and future directions, the discussion highlights the complex challenges and exciting possibilities in the world of high-performance blockchain technology.

As Solana continues to evolve, the focus remains on balancing innovation with stability, addressing real-world use cases, and fostering a vibrant ecosystem of developers and users. With its unique approach to solving global synchronization and speed challenges, Solana is poised to play a significant role in the future of decentralized finance and beyond.

Facts + Figures

  • Solana experienced its first major outage in September 2021, shortly after gaining widespread adoption.
  • The Solana team intentionally left some aspects of the design undefined to allow for flexibility in addressing issues as they arose.
  • Yakovenko argues that solving 8 hard engineering problems simultaneously gives only a 1 in 256 chance of being bug-free at launch.
  • Solana's design philosophy focuses on synchronizing information globally as fast as possible, setting it apart from projects prioritizing settlement or store of value.
  • The Solana team grew from about 20 people at launch, with only 12 engineers including Yakovenko, to a much larger team today.
  • Version 1.16 of Solana brought significant improvements in network stability and performance.
  • Yakovenko's experience at Qualcomm, working on embedded systems and chip optimization, heavily influenced Solana's design.
  • Solana's approach allows for more flexibility in token and staking structures compared to Ethereum, potentially reducing centralization risks.
  • Yakovenko sees AI as a tool that could make software development much faster, potentially reducing a two-week task for a new graduate to just one day.
  • The Solana ecosystem has been quick to respond to new ideas, with teams often picking up and working on concepts shortly after Yakovenko mentions them.
  • Yakovenko emphasizes the importance of focusing on obvious, practical use cases like payments to drive mainstream adoption.
  • The Solana community is described as having fewer "info projects" compared to other ecosystems, with a focus on building practical solutions.

Questions Answered

What caused Solana's first major outage in 2021?

Solana's first major outage in September 2021 was not directly caused by network load, but rather by problems in the codebase that couldn't handle the load at specific performance levels. These issues led to memory failures that caused validators to fail. The team had intentionally left some aspects of the design undefined to allow for flexibility in addressing such issues as they arose in real-world conditions.

How does Solana's design philosophy differ from other blockchain projects?

Solana's design philosophy focuses on synchronizing information globally as fast as possible, providing fair and open access to data. This approach sets it apart from projects that prioritize settlement or store of value functionalities. Yakovenko explains that Solana aims to be a competitive infrastructure layer for finance and trading, solving problems that centralized systems currently handle.

How has Anatoly Yakovenko's experience at Qualcomm influenced Solana's development?

Yakovenko's experience at Qualcomm, working on embedded systems and chip optimization, heavily influenced Solana's design. He draws parallels between balancing resources across different parts of a chip and optimizing blockchain performance. This background in dealing with hardware limitations and resource management has been crucial in developing Solana's high-performance architecture.

What role does AI play in Solana's future development?

Yakovenko sees significant potential in AI-assisted code generation and verification for blockchain development. He believes AI tools could dramatically speed up software development, potentially reducing a two-week task for a new graduate to just one day. However, he cautions that we are still far from having AI systems capable of solving complex engineering problems independently.

How does Solana balance adding new features with maintaining network performance?

Solana's approach to adding new features is based on the principle that each addition should improve upon the previous code. New features are carefully considered based on their impact on validators, developers, and overall network stability. Yakovenko emphasizes that releases are generally non-controversial because they address specific requests from the community or improve the network's performance and stability.

What does Yakovenko see as the most important focus for blockchain adoption?

Yakovenko stresses the importance of focusing on practical, immediate use cases for blockchain technology, particularly in areas like payments. He believes that solving real-world problems and reducing friction in existing financial systems should be a priority for driving mainstream adoption of crypto technologies. This approach focuses on building solutions that are compelling enough for users to overcome the current friction associated with using crypto.

How does Solana's approach to staking and token structure differ from Ethereum's?

Solana's design allows for more flexibility in token and staking structures compared to Ethereum. Yakovenko explains that Solana's components of staking, such as validator accounts, vote keys, and withdrawal authorities, are separate programmable keys that can be managed independently. This design leads to a more distributed stakeholder landscape and potentially reduces centralization risks associated with liquid staking solutions.

What improvements has Solana seen since its launch in March 2020?

Since its launch in March 2020, Solana has undergone continuous optimization efforts. The team has grown significantly, allowing for more focused work on improving network stability and performance. Recent releases, such as version 1.16, have brought substantial improvements to the network. Yakovenko notes that these optimizations are ongoing, with each release addressing specific issues and enhancing the overall functionality of the network.

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