Scalability: Assumed to Be Infinite?

August 20, 2019

I hear and read about scalability—whether I want to or not. Within the last 24 hours, I learned that certain US government applications have to be smart (AI and ML) and have the ability to scale. Scale to what? In what amount of time? How?

The answers to these questions are usually Amazon, Google, IBM, Microsoft, or some other company’s cloud.

I thought about this implicit assumption about scaling when I read “Vitalik Buterin: Ethereum’s Scalability Issue Is Proving To Be A Formidable Impediment To Adoption By Institutions.” The “inventor” of Ethereum (a technology supported by Amazon AWS by the way), allegedly said:

Scalability is a big bottleneck because Ethereum blockchain is almost full. If you’re a bigger organization, the calculus is that if we join it will not only be full but we will be competing with everyone for transaction space. It’s already expensive and it will be even five times more expensive because of us. There is pressure keeping people from joining, but improvements in scalability can do a lot in improving that.”

There are fixes. Here’s one from the write up:

Notably, Vitalik is known to be a supporter of other crypto currencies besides Ethereum. In July, Buterin suggested using Bitcoin Cash (BCH) to solve the scalability barrier in the short-term as they figure out a more permanent solution. Additionally, early this month, he supported the idea of integrating Bitcoin Lightning Network into the Ethereum smart contracts asserting that the “future of crypto currencies is diverse and pluralist”.

Questions which may be germane:

  1. What’s the limit of scalability?
  2. How do today’s systems scale?
  3. What’s the time and resource demand when one scales to an unknown scope?

Please, don’t tell me, “Scaling is infinite.”

Why?

There are constraints and limits. Two factors some people don’t want to think about. Better to say, “Scaling. No problem.”

Wrong. Scaling is a problem. Someone has to pay for the infrastructure, the know how, downstream consequences of latency, and the other “costs.”

Stephen E Arnold, August 20, 2019

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