Golem is a project to build a global, P2P supercomputer using the Ethereum network. Its end goal is to create a global market for computation, where anyone can buy and sell computation in real-time. Golem positions itself as an additional way that current cloud providers and data centers (Amazon, Microsoft and IBM) could interact with their customers, rather than competing with those providers directly. Currently, however, Golem represents a decentralized alternative to established, resource-rich IaaS and PaaS heavyweights. This contributes to making Golem’s undertaking an ambitious one.
Golem is lead by Julian Zawisowski (CEO) and Andrzej Regulski (COO), who have been working together since 2008 – first at Polish economic think-tank IBS, and then at Imapp, a consulting and software development company they founded together in 2013. As Imapp, they went on to contract for the Ethereum Foundation as well as Omise’s Blockchain Lab, affording them the opportunity to work with other blockchain technologies including Factom, Hydrachain and Raiden. Imapp has also been working on Black Vision, a real-time rendering engine for Polish production company Blackburst, making CGI rendering a logical use-case focus for the project. Piotr Janiuk (CTO) is credited in the whitepaper as the “father of Black Vision”, along with a long list of pioneering technical achievements.
The project is currently in the beta phase of “Brass Golem”, a proof-of-concept version focusing on the CGI rendering use case. “Clay Golem”, the next phase in Golem’s long term roadmap, will include NVIDIA GPU support, allowing users to contribute computational power utilizing their video cards. Golem is collaborating with the Intel SGX and Graphene projects to allow users with sensitive data to more securely utilize Golem for its computational services.
Golem provides a P2P network of computing power. Users download Golem software, which runs in the background and creates a virtual environment. People who need computational resources, such as for CGI rendering, can send jobs to Golem, which breaks them into smaller discrete tasks and uses the virtual environments to execute them. Computers are compensated in GNT based on how much they contribute to the task. In the short run, Golem will primarily be an input-output process — people send jobs to the network and get back results–and is more accurately thought of as a distributed supercomputer, not a cloud service. Enabling reliable, real-time access to untrusted computers around the world will take much more technical work and is a use case scheduled for later phases of Golem.
Payments on the Golem network are secured and facilitated by the Ethereum blockchain. Golem’s ‘Application Registry’, an Ethereum smart contract, enables anyone to deploy software to the network, with Golem’s ‘Transaction Framework’ enabling more advanced trustless payment schemes, such as a micropayment model that allows for payments to slowly accumulate as computer suppliers perform small tasks. Together, these two components aim to create an environment conducive to rapid, community-driven innovation. The Ethereum blockchain also helps Golem convey information between the ecosystem’s three user groups: requesters demanding computing resource, providers supplying hardware infrastructure, and software developers creating applications which enable utilization of network resources.
A major long term goal for such a decentralized marketplace, according to Golem’s whitepaper, is to disrupt price inefficiencies that are a product of current market’s oligopolistic character. CGI rendering, big data analytics, and machine learning could become more accessible were Golem to succeed in correcting for (alleged) price inefficiencies through its marketplace. On the other hand, advances in computing or storage technologies alone could lower the costs for such services, with some early observers predicting that cloud storage will be a ‘race to zero.’ Such predictions have not born out: an informal comparison of computation and storage price trends found that, while Google’s cloud computing service costs dropped 20% between 2014-2016, it dropped only 5% between 2016-2018. The same survey found that neither Google’s cloud storage services nor Digital Ocean’s cloud services package pricing changed since 2014.
Apart from the major cloud IaaS, PaaS and SaaS providers, such as Amazon, Microsoft and IBM, as well as public grid computing platforms, Golem will face competition from niche service providers, like centralized CGI rendering farms and open-source distributed computing projects (SETI@home and Folding@home). Golem’s crypto competitors include SONM and Holochain. At time of writing, according to Golem’s network statistics, 235 nodes are active, with some nodes having completed up to 3500 computation tasks. Hoard, a platform offering game development tools and a virtual goods marketplace, has announced that its Code Compiler tool will be powered by Golem. In comparison, SONM has 457 workers with 229,000 completed deals, and partnerships with POSTKINO FX and Teleport.
The Golem Network Token (GNT) is an ERC-20 token which acts as an exclusive medium of exchange between Golem ecosystem participants—the GNT token is the sole means of payment on the network. GNT is used by requesters to compensate providers and software developers for resource and application usage respectively. GNT will also be necessary for other processes involving the application registry and transaction framework once they are fully implemented—hypothetically, GNT could be used in submission of deposits by software developers during the process of software validation and certification.