Announcing new stake pools chosen for our delegation strategy
Committing to the health and diversity of the Cardano network, we are now announcing the new round of winners for delegation
14 May 2021 9 mins read
Cardano continues to grow, powered by a stake pool operator (SPO) community working toward a vision of an independent, globally decentralized ecosystem. Stake pools have always been the driving force of the Cardano network and we launched our delegation strategy to recognize and bootstrap the promising pools.
To support our long-term vision for Cardano’s growth and network decentralization, we have already delegated the stake from retired IO Global pools to a number of promising stake pools in the ecosystem – to bootstrap their business and support community development goals, technical contributions, and geographical distribution. Our analysis has shown that our contribution helped them to become more stable in the network and attract delegators and community members who share their ideas and development objectives.
Diversity & distribution
Any community ecosystem needs its engineers and entrepreneurs, its technocrats, and its diplomats – globally. Equally, the pool ecosystem needs a balance of larger established players, a strong core, and an inflow of new entrants primed to build further success upon strong fundamentals.
The problem that many stake pools currently face is their recognition within the ecosystem or rather visibility that allows the attraction of community support to ensure stable and consistent pool operation. Running a stake pool is not an easy process; unlike mining, it does not presume straightforward funds earning from just setting up a pool on the machine. You cannot buy your way to success through a better and better kit – indeed, Cardano is designed to be relatively light on computing resources. Stake pool operation is a complex business that has the hallmarks of both a commodity and a distributed market, and requires a blend of skills, persistence, and luck.
There are many factors that influence the pool’s success and differentiate it from the others. First of all, these are technical factors such as:
- Parameters: this includes pledge influence factor, relative pool saturation size, stake delegated to the pool, and stake pledged by the owners.
- Fiscal: variable fee, fixed fee, and pledge should be all taken into account to ensure that the pool functions effectively, produces blocks, and earns rewards for its delegators.
- Performance: calculated according to the pool’s expected activity as the ratio of the number of blocks a stake pool produces in a given epoch versus the number it was capable of producing.
- Overall mission: even if the pool meets all of the above requirements, this does not mean that it becomes totally recognized or drives straightforward attention. With over 2000 active pools in the ecosystem, it is essential to reveal to the community the mission that a certain pool is trying to achieve and explain why this exact choice is beneficial for others.
The ability to differentiate is key, and that is where the marketing factor steps in. Just like any business seeking ‘customers’ in a competitive market, no pool will get recognized unless it announces itself, tells a story, builds trust. So, commitment to raising awareness sits alongside vigilance towards node maintenance. Like any small business – and that's what this is – it requires clear objectives, and of course, goals that add value to the community while meeting the bottom line.
We announced a new stage of application submission earlier in April, and are now committing to redelegate our funds to a new cohort of stake pools and – we hope – help them grow to their potential.
Even though we may want every pool to be successful, not every pool will be. With our delegation, we are committing to help those stake pools that ultimately, have not yet reached the desired level of awareness. One of the critical issues a stake pool operator comes across is uncertainty and the inability to rely on consistent rewards. This is like with venture capital investments – stakeholders invest in those projects where they see returns on investment. But what if the mission is highly important and promising, but there is no capital to kick it off? In such cases, many companies receive initial support (investment) in order to boost their development and reach desired goals.
In the same way, we are willing to support promising stake pools, and help them get established within the ecosystem by evening out more predictable rewards and, thus, attracting a higher number of delegators to support their mission.
Differentiation is key to success, and we hope that we can provide the chosen stake pools with opportunities to establish themselves and keep sustainable and stable operations without relying on the luckiness factor. We can now share details of the fresh cohort of stake pools chosen to take part in our new delegation round. But first, a closer look into objectives and the process.
Choosing the pools for delegation is always a complex process. Every active pool is making a contribution to the globally decentralized network. Last time, when assessing the pools and their contributions, we have been guided by such factors as their goals and purpose, geographical location, technical contribution, stake & pledge ratio, and community/social media engagement.
With 700 pools to assess, we were always going to disappoint many pools and some may feel they have been unfairly overlooked. Even after some initial filtering, we had a field of some 300 pools that met many of the criteria we identified. Thanks again to pooltool.io and adapools.org for providing additional data sources during the process.
Purpose and mission remain an important part of Cardano so this was again part of the mix. Greater weight this time was also given towards other key aspects such as geographic distribution, social/community activity, and support for the lower-middle sized part of the network. Pragmatically, sustainable support needs to focus on pools that are neither strongest nor weakest. The following delegation distribution was defined:
- 50% of our dedicated stake to the geographically distributed pools
- 25% to socially active pools with solid technical potential
- 25% to the lower-middle sized pools to even out the network balance
Let’s take a closer look at the factors that influenced our choice to understand the reasoning behind it.
Cardano is a decentralized, distributed network of nodes that work together to verify block production and transaction validity in the network. Decentralization is key to this process as only independence from governing entities establishes trust and confidence in handling financial activities. To ensure that the network is resilient to connectivity failures, it is essential that stake pool operation nodes are distributed across the globe without significant concentration in one location. This is beneficial for setting up connections between different regions and eliminates a single point of failure. A minimum of two relays was another factor in play as part of this.
Our survey earlier in the year helped us understand that a critical issue SPOs face is the inability to differentiate. For this reason, we used a social impact score from Pulsar to help us understand which stake pools were gaining traction across potential delegators.
As well as ‘ambassadors’ for the network, we have evaluated socially active stake pools that operate to support business goals in their countries or for the betterment of various community activities. We have chosen those pools that have great social presence and community engagement but face difficulties in gaining a stronger position in terms of reward predictability. To be clear, technical performance is still the most important factor – no amount of tweets or Reddit posts is going to make up for missed blocks.
With such a variety of stake pools all functioning for different purposes, we are also distinguishing potentially strong pools that have been working hard to keep the network activities and support block production and transaction validation. Delegating to these pools, we support smaller-middle size businesses and help their delegators earn stable rewards.
Due to the security properties of the Ouroboros protocol, the selection process for block production is ultimately randomized, and the probability of creating a block is proportional to the amount of delegated stake.
Such a condition is well-applicable for long-term reward behavior, however, in terms of shorter timespans (one or several epochs), this randomness can yield an unpredictable amount of rewards. This effect increases the smaller amount of delegation the pool has, which in turn might have an undesired side effect disconcerting delegators who expect a predictable amount of return on their stake.
Meeting the winners
Here’s a list of 100 stake pools chosen for our new round of delegation. If you’re interested to find out more about these pools and their mission, you can easily do so at adafolio.com or adapools.org.
We are aiming to delegate to these pools at the end of May/early June, so SPOs can expect to receive ada from then for a period of three months.
As much as we are happy to recognize 100 stake pools that we believe have solid potential in reaching business objectives and supporting ecosystem sustainability, we still understand that there are many more contributors that we are not able to delegate to this time. We would like to thank you for all you do and if you were not selected this time, please note that we’ll have a new delegation round three months from now.
So, we encourage all pools that missed out to apply again for the fresh cohort during Q3, and we’ll make a new call for applications in June to rotate delegations in July. While technical analysis is the primary way that pools are identified for delegation, we always welcome community feedback on how we can continue to improve the process. We are committed to seeing the Cardano ecosystem go from strength to strength. Together we have created the world’s leading proof-of-stake ecosystem and we want to do what we can to maintain and improve it as it matures.
Thanks to Ben O’Hanlon, Colin Edwards, Francisco Landino, Sam Leathers, Olga Hryniuk & Tim Harrison for support and additional contributions.
Strategic partners pave way for Plutus smart contracts
Metalamp and Runtime Verification among developers priming Cardano for the age of DeFi
12 May 2021 6 mins read
The technical infrastructure is being laid for Plutus smart contracts on Cardano. But such infrastructure for decentralized finance (DeFi) is like a road with no cars if there aren’t the developers to write the contracts that will drive platform adoption and usage.
The Plutus pioneer program was kicked off in April, as part of an evolving scheme for developer education that began over two years ago. The goal? To provide structured training for anyone who wants to learn about functional programming, so they can begin using Haskell and Plutus, and start building their first apps. Alongside this keen and committed group of about 1,500 ‘trainee’ Plutus developers, we’ve also formed partnerships with experienced software development houses to build a number of decentralized applications (DApps) to stress-test the network, provide some early proof-of-concept applications, and assess our processes and support for the army of developers that follow.
The plan for Plutus is to have ‘professional developers complement the work of the pioneer program and help fast-track our quality assurance and testing process towards the Alonzo hard fork,’ says Silviu Petricescu, director of product strategy.
‘The Cardano community has been integral to us testing, improving and rolling out the network since the days of the incentivized testnet,’ he adds. Professional developers add another element to the process – in terms of expertise, sitting somewhere between the core internal team and the pioneers – ‘to scrutinize everything’, he adds. ‘Starting with documentation, tools and all the support elements that we are going to provide, they are going to be the first to test it all and give us feedback. We will include that in our internal testing and quality assurance processes.’
It’s a two-pronged approach: the pioneer scheme will be training up an army of developers, while the partner scheme will bring in heavyweight expertise to make sure everything works – that way, everyone is ready when Plutus is deployed to the mainnet as the final component of Goguen on the Cardano roadmap. ‘Having these developers as part of this is a way for us to ensure that our quality of build towards the next hard fork will be at the level that we want,’ says Petricescu.
Gerard Moroney, director of operations, has been bringing these software houses into the scheme. ‘We've been talking to companies that have experience with blockchain, and blockchain consultancies, and others that are not necessarily crypto but know distributed computing. We've also looked at consultancies that have solid Haskell experience.’ Enthusiasm and passion are also part of the equation: ‘We're working with companies that really want to try something new, something innovative and interesting. Fundamentally, we're backing people who want to be brave and be ahead of the curve.’
Of course, the blockchain never sleeps and the search has taken him far and wide, holding talks with consultancy companies across Europe, Asia Pacific, and the Americas. ‘Some of them were entirely new to us,’ he says, ‘but they already knew about Cardano and Plutus – and that's been really interesting.’
These are companies that have experience in the finance sector and business so ‘they've all got great ideas’ he adds. ‘We're giving them guidance about what we want them to work against at the beginning, but they're also coming up with new ideas – and that’s a lot of fun.’
March’s Cardano360 show ran interviews with some of the partner companies. When it comes to software engineering, their expertise soon becomes clear. Obsidian Systems, for example, provided many of the tools and the technical support for the block validators who maintain the Tezos proof-of-stake blockchain.
On a visit to the Metalamp offices, you’d find yourself in the city of Omsk in Siberia among a team that thrives on ‘complex and time-consuming projects’, often built on the Haskell programming language. ‘The company had heard about Cardano and knew that ‘it is one of the most fascinating projects written in Haskell’. Some of their teams had already played with Plutus before the companies came into contact. Metalamp has experience with financial technology and has built applications involving lenders, loans, and ledgers.
Other companies supporting the rollout include:
- Eleks: custom software engineering and consulting services since 1991. Based in Ukraine.
- Node Factory: blockchain research and development specialist in Zagreb.
- MLabs: develops compilers, artificial intelligence, and DevOps applications, mostly in Haskell, Python, and Typescript.
- BinarApps: based in Poland, this developer specializes in projects for the retail and loyalty sectors.
Developers are looking forward to exploring applications involving digital exchanges and online sources called ‘oracles’ that bring information – whether it be commodity prices, exchange rates, airline timetables, or logistics schedules – into blockchains. The Essential Cardano page on GitHub maps the Cardano ecosystem and links to a library of resources.
A long time in the making
Of course, Plutus will be used for complex financial smart contracts. There is a lot of money at stake with these contracts – it is reckoned that $43 billion is already locked into contracts using the Ethereum system. Yet DeFi is still at a very early stage and, as we showed in our recent #CardanoAfrica event, there is a whole new market out there for real world use cases (or RealFi as we call it).
Implementing secure smart contracts for the long term is hard, and software schedules are notoriously difficult! But the progress made by our blockchain engineers and the acceleration in the way the pieces of the Goguen jigsaw are falling into place are clear to see in the Plutus timeline below. The Plutus Playground is up and running. We have about 1,500 developers building their skills within the Pioneer program, writing scripts and building prototype apps. A series of Alonzo development testnets will soon begin rolling out – with core functionality at first, followed by a process of fast iteration with new capability and new user groups added in the weeks ahead. All the while, we are advancing steadily towards deployment of Alonzo on the mainnet and the start of smart contracts on Cardano.
It’s going to be an exciting summer as everyone in the Cardano community – partners, pioneers and developers of every stripe – works tirelessly to ensure that the Plutus smart contract platform hits the ground running. The secure, energy-efficient system that decentralized finance has been waiting for.
We’re in the final stages of preparing the first Alonzo testnet, aiming for the end of the month. Keep an eye on our social channels this week for an update. You can try out the Plutus Playground for yourself, and join Plutus discussions at the Cardano Forum. There is also a Plutus GitHub repository. You can register your interest and join our Slack community.
Cardano decentralization continues: insights into our P2P deployment
Stake pools will soon be able to test automated peer-to-peer connections
11 May 2021 5 mins read
Decentralization of the Cardano network is key to ensuring its long-term sustainability, resilience, and independence from centralized governing entities. Now that block production is fully decentralized, our next focus is on developing our decentralized stake pool operator (SPO) ecosystem to build reliable and effective connections between distributed nodes.
Giving the power to validate blocks and transactions to stake pool operators requires enhancements to the network software. The activation of the peer-to-peer (P2P) governor, along with the deployment of the connection manager, enabled the release of a private P2P testnet in late April. We are now assessing this engineering testnet before deploying a semi-public P2P testnet for a group of invited SPOs to help us test and tune.
In the P2P governor post, we discussed the network’s architecture and the interaction between mini protocols and the components that enable direct and automated communication between nodes. Here, we assess how the connectivity model has matured to enable automated peer connectivity and reflect on the results of the private testnet launch.
Evolution of network connectivity
When Cardano was launched, the Byron network connectivity model operated in a federated state. In that setting, IOHK maintained core and relay nodes that connected to about 200 other relays (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Byron federated network structure
With the launch of Shelley last year, Cardano started functioning in a hybrid setting. This allowed stake pools to construct their P2P network manually by connecting to core and relay nodes and also to the seven federated relays that helped maintain the network during this transitional phase (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Shelley’s initial hybrid network structure
Since March, block production has been entirely decentralized, with stake pools following manual topologies for P2P connections. This means that SPOs have been using a list of relay nodes registered across the globe to generate their configuration for connections with other peers. To provide better efficiency, it is essential to enable automated node communication without reliance on IO-run relay nodes. Thus, the networking team is now deploying the automated P2P code, which will allow pool operators to create and run a more decentralized network.
In this way, once the P2P mainnet is deployed, Cardano will be maintained solely by community-run nodes (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Final network structure with automated node communication
P2P testnet and node communication
The first stage in the P2P rollout was the launch of the private P2P testnet last month. This has been used to test the basic capabilities of the components:
- P2P governor: manages hot, warm, and cold sets of peers and ensures that the node meets the target number of each type of peer.
- Connection manager: creates outbound connections or registers inbound connections, tracks their state, and allows full-duplex TCP connections to be reused.
- Server: accepts connections and performs dynamic rate limiting.
- Inbound protocol governor: responsible for running and tracking the state of the inbound connection side. This includes tracking the state of each remote peer (cold, warm, or hot) and the state of each inbound mini-protocol.
The P2P system was deployed in a private environment and tested between eight nodes that connected to the mainnet and established communication with active SPO relay nodes; these further connected to other relays and block-producing nodes. The system enabled nodes to discover stake pool relays using the on-chain stake pool registry, which includes the DNS name or IP address of each relay.
Test results show that the nodes could arbitrarily select peers for communication, including those from the mainnet. The use of an ‘upstream’ metric enabled the discarding of the worst-performing peers and random selection of new peers for connection. This policy has been demonstrated in large-scale simulations (10,000 nodes), providing close-to-optimal results. In the live testing, the team saw many iterations of the optimization procedure. The team also observed that a range of peer connections occurred – with both nearby and far-away peers from different locations, which was inherent to all the eight nodes run in different parts of the world.
The networking and DevOps teams are now working together to improve the testnet environment, so all SPOs invited to the semi-public testnet can establish direct peer connections. This includes work on feature enhancements and testing processes to deliver the most efficient results. Thus, to introduce new targets for local root peers, the team is finalizing the tests for such related features as targets for known, established, and active peers.
We will be soon launching the semi-public P2P testnet, with the support of a small group of SPO partners to help with initial testing, before broadening this out to the wider SPO community. As ever, early feedback and ideas from our community are central to test, iterate, and improve processes as we progress towards a fully automated and decentralized P2P architecture for the Cardano mainnet.
Additional contributions from Karl Knutsson, Duncan Coutts, Neil Davies, Prashanti Naik, and Olga Hryniuk.
Runtime Verification & IELE – from interoperability to universality
KEVM and IELE will bring unparalleled levels of security, scalability and programmability to Cardano
10 May 2021 4 mins read
Professor Grigore Rosu, President and CEO of start-up Runtime Verification (RV) joined us on March's edition of the Cardano360 show to share ideas and discuss the collaboration between RV and IOHK.
Our professional relationship with Grigore and RV started back in 2017, and Grigore’s credentials speak for themselves (in any language). He’s worked for NASA, DARPA, Microsoft, and has taught at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, to name but a few achievements.
Grigore is also credited with the creation of the K Framework, which has been described as ‘software that simply cannot afford to fail.' Developed over 15 years, the framework’s primary purpose is to enhance security. We’ll get into this in more detail later, but first, a short history lesson.
When it comes to smart contracts, the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) set many early standards, for example the creation of the ubiquitous ERC-20 smart contracts, written in Solidity. However, this system isn’t flawless. Smart contracts have known coding vulnerabilities that have caused security issues.
IELE: Unparalleled security, scalability, and programmability
Since late 2020, Cardano developers have had a bridge to the Solidity/Ethereum community via the K Ethereum Virtual Machine (KEVM), an implementation of the EVM specified in the K framework, which allows developers to use the formal verification tools that K produces to check a contract's correctness.
IELE takes things a step further. As discussed by Rosu on March’s Cardano360 show, IELE (named after a faerie-like creature of Romanian myth) is a virtual machine that executes smart contracts, and also provides a human-readable language for blockchain developers. IELE was designed with formal methods in mind to address security and correctness concerns inherent in writing Solidity smart contracts targeting Ethereum, easing the path to heightened levels of security, scalability, and programmability.
IELE resembles the intermediate representation of the LLVM compiler. This enables drawing on the wealth of knowledge available in the LLVM community, specifically, the work that has gone into writing safe and effective compiler optimization passes over LLVM IR. Much of the effort put into the LLVM compiler can be ported to the IELE optimizer as well.
When IELE is implemented (Rosu indicated that an initial proof of concept would be available for testing around six months from now), the opportunity for development will be even wider. IELE operates more like a passport than a virtual machine, opening the doors – if not the floodgates – to a wealth of new and unique talent. Some developers may have once dismissed the idea of entering the blockchain space, as it would likely have meant learning an entirely new programming language. As a direct result of RV’s innovative approach, any developer wanting to get involved in smart contracts can write them in a language they are comfortable with, including Solidity. The resulting output would run successfully on any IELE-powered blockchain, irrespective of the source language.
What does this mean for Cardano?
This achievement will offer developers and businesses yet another incentive to migrate from Ethereum and participate in the Cardano blockchain. Openness, inclusivity, and interoperability are the foundations upon which Cardano was built. Our philosophy is – and always has been – to welcome developers from all backgrounds, to ensure Cardano’s steady evolution. Rosu has bold plans. 'IELE is the crown jewel of our research over the past decade,' he says. 'It’s the maximum you can hope for on a universal framework.'
IOHK’s partnership with RV demonstrates a commitment to innovation, and to opening Cardano to as wide a development community as possible. The KEVM/IELE implementation will expand Cardano’s reach and interoperability by creating novel avenues of cooperation that will lead to the exploration of new ideas, concepts, and technological developments in the context of a ‘correct by construction’ environment.
You can read more from Alex at Cardano community site Adapulse.
The essential Cardano list - a new resource for the community
Introducing a new central source for all things Cardano-related
30 April 2021 4 mins read
Today sees the publication of the Essential Cardano list – a new GitHub repository which will help you to find out everything you need to know about Cardano. Whether you want to understand what Cardano is and who our partners are, learn about our mission and roadmap, or get stuck in and build on Cardano, this is the place to start.
Inspired by GitHub's well known Awesome lists, the Essential Cardano list provides an outline of our thriving ecosystem, as well as a comprehensive list of resources to help you learn more and get started. As it grows and expands, this new list aims to become the canonical source of material for Cardano, including both official resources and community-generated materials. We are now looking for our community members to help us extend it even more by contributing their suggestions.
A central location of essential resources
We want to have a central location for all things Cardano, to bring everything together and make it easy for people to find what they need. We have provided links to all official sites, channels, and resources, as well as to a collection of material such as explainers, guides, developer resources, glossaries, primers, tutorials, and much more.
On top of that, we have identified assets developed by the community which we think provide great value and complement our own content that we produce. Our aim is that our community will now help us to grow it out and make it even better.
Navigate the Cardano ecosystem
Essential Cardano provides an outline of all the core entities, partner groups, and facets that are part of our growing ecosystem to help orientate you to understand all the existing and new relationships that are being developed.
Initially, our focus has been on curating links and references to what’s going on within our growing ecosystem. As we update the list, or additions are made by community members, the list will also grow. We also plan to add additional visual elements including infographics and ecosystem maps over time. We have included an existing ecosystem map which is currently being refreshed by our team to reflect new relationships and partnerships we have formed recently. We plan to release a May version of this map very soon, so if you would like to help us get this up to date as soon as possible, go ahead and raise a pull request with your suggestion!
We have also included all the Project Catalyst startups that currently exist so you can understand some of what is being planned for future development.
How do I contribute?
We are looking for you to help us to grow out and evolve this essential Cardano list. This list is fully open source so if you know of new content that is being produced by members of the community, new relationships that are not included, or new innovations, please let us know so that we can add them all to this list and promote them. The easiest way to do this is to raise a pull request on the repository. We’ll evaluate these regularly and provide feedback within each pull request.
Growing this list
2021 is already a very active year for growth and engagement on Cardano. Following on from yesterday's exciting announcements about our vision for Africa, and with upcoming smart contracts and other new products on the way, we expect lots of new and exciting additions. We have already included some contributions from our active Plutus Pioneers course, which are very welcome, and we anticipate many more users, developers, and enterprises jumping on board in the coming months. We are happy to see the new Cardano Q & A Stack Exchange being developed and would encourage our community members to submit their questions to help build this out. Stay tuned for announcements and updates here on our blog, social channels, and within the Essential Cardano repository itself.