Kristof is a successful entrepreneur and the co-founder of the ThreeFold Foundation. He is building the next generation blockchain-based IT infrastructure. We discussed his journey building tech companies, problems with current IT systems, and what he believes is the future of modern technologies.
Question 1. Let’s get to meet you. Tell me a bit about your background.
Since I was 9 years old I have been obsessed by computers & programming. I guess you can call me a nerd. I always had a lot more interest in my computer and the sheer endless possibilities than normal childhood. Fast forward to when I came out of university, I had a hard time finding a job. Lucky for me I found a good business mentor who allowed me to build out my first business which was a networking and IT integration business. This was back in 1994 when we were still messing around with coax networks and a super immature IT ecosystem.
Around 2014, my life seriously changed. My wife Isabelle was very sick at that time and almost died. Doing something meaningful for the world became really important to us. This is where we started with the current projects going from conscious technology, trying to create a new Internet, and organizing healing retreats on the Nile.
Question 2. Is ThreeFold your first contribution to the tech space? If not, what other products or companies have you worked on/for, and how did you work your way into the blockchain space?
I’ve been in the IT space since 1994, so for 25 years now. After my first business which I mentioned above, the first global Internet service provider in the world (PSInet) asked me to help them to build out their hosting and datacenter business in Europe. This was a crazy period in which our team achieved 2 world records.
Then in 2000, I gathered enough courage to start my first company. Since then we have founded more than 15 companies, of which 6 have been acquired.
Over all those years, we have been working on developing technology to create a more stable infrastructure for the Internet (more scalable database, storage, and automation systems). You can probably call this the boring part of the Internet that you can’t see – the backbone parts.
Question 3. On paper, decentralized Internet looks amazing. Can you please introduce readers to its benefits and the roadblocks to establishing one?
Well there are many benefits to a decentralized Internet. In our case it means that we (users) will own our data instead of big companies. We shouldn’t have to worry about our digital behavior being analyzed and used to predict our habits whether they are social or consumer or even voting. So this part is huge.
Then instead of operating out of huge centralized power-hungry data centres, our decentralized Internet is built on a globally distributed grid of nodes which makes it faster, more affordable, and better for our planet.
With the help of a distributed network, we also aim to eliminate the digital divide. Did you know that today 3+ billion people still don’t have access to the internet? This creates huge inequalities in our world. By bringing a super simple solution to cloud computing/storage capacity to emerging areas with no previous accessibility we hope to empower people equally everywhere.
Of course, our wish is to face the minimal amount of roadblocks that we can, but with all projects, especially in this scenario where you’re changing the fundamental structure that the Internet has been built upon for 20 years or so we know there will be some.
Since much of the world isn’t familiar with what a decentralized Internet means and how it would affect them we need to make sure we communicate well how it is a change for the better and a positive change for humanity. We get some comments and confusion like “how will the company keep control?” (the answer is we don’t want control, that goes against decentralization).
We also need to ensure we have the right participation (partners, ecosystem, etc) and adoption to bring this vision to life. You could say this is a “roadblock” for any project but especially important when it comes to decentralization.
So there is still a lot of work ahead and much of this we can’t predict right now.
Question 4. Do you still think that blockchain is as disruptive as they say, bearing in mind that its buzz has slowly waned?
I indeed think blockchain was overhyped, which means that the “buzz” is coming down naturally but it is a fantastic idea that will drive innovation and it is here to stay for sure.
What slowed down the growth of blockchains is the “blockchain dilemma” which means that they have to choose between security or scalability. You can’t have both right now. The good news is we believe we can deliver both simultaneously, and all blockchains can achieve the same when living on our grid. (-:
In the end, blockchain should only be used for what it’s good at: a store of value and providing consistency amongst a lot of different parties. It will become part of most IT systems of the future. We use blockchain in the same way, we need blockchain technology to make our system work but it is not the end goal if that makes sense.
Question 5. How do you think regulations would affect blockchain-based networks and solutions, especially those that enable decentralization?
I believe regulations are not necessarily a bad thing, many of them are meaningful and are designed to protect the weaker parties. Often their implementation is not straightforward and sometimes even impossible to implement in current IT systems. Current blockchain projects have a hard time to comply, newer methods need to be found to address issues like privacy and data ownership. For example, GDPR implies that the user needs to be able to delete data from the IT system, which is not really possible in current blockchain based storage systems.
We took a different approach, which is to put the user in the center of his/her digital life, and as such many regulations become much more easy to deal with. In our system, each user has their own blockchain which is 100% private to the user. An innovative storage algorithm spreads the data of the private blockchain over multiple nodes in such a way that data cannot be re-constructed from individual nodes. This caters for very good security and privacy.
This new way of dealing with data has huge benefits for regulations like GDPR. We believe that blockchain technology will adopt itself to comply to regulations. Personally, I believe that current blockchain technology is good for certain use cases like digital currencies, finding consensus, and certain types of smart contracts. New systems like ours are being invented and deployed which are a combination of blockchain and other algorithmic approaches which are not necessarily related to blockchain technology.
Question 6. Can you please explain the main attributes of the Threefold Network and the innovation that it brings?
The ThreeFold Network is the interworking of three main components – the ThreeFold Grid, Threefold Token and the 3Bot to create what we call the Autonomous Internet.
The ThreeFold Grid is the backbone or highway, with already 40M GB of storage and compute capacity online today in 21 countries. And any application which can run on Linux can run on the grid but with full privacy and security, on the edge, and being up to 20x cheaper than current solutions.
Then there is the ThreeFold Token (TFT) which is the medium of exchange. It’s what people and organizations will use to buy Internet services (storage, compute, applications). What is important is that TFTs are only generated when active capacity is added to the grid.
Lastly you have 3Bot which acts as your digital assistant in a way. It lives on top of the grid and performs tasks like running workloads or efficiently storing your data.
Our autonomous technology (created by ThreeFold Tech) is the major innovation. It means that humans are required only as gatekeepers because the technology is self driving and self healing. Less human intervention means more security and lower costs. But what is really impressive is that it is 100% private, which means that no one can access your data without your permission, not even us.
Question 7. Decentralized and autonomous Internet is not a new concept in the tech space. There are a growing number of companies introducing projects related to this concept. How is the ThreeFold Network holding up against the competition?
There are really two “competitive sets” you might say. One is centralized cloud providers and we think we are a good alternative to those companies because of some of the reasons I already mentioned – full privacy, faster, more cost-effective, more secure.
The other is blockchains but here we really see ourselves collaborating, we think we operate in a different way that is more about helping than competing. We think we can be a missing (capacity) layer for blockchain companies (Sia, Filecoin, Holochain, etc). They can use our grid to deploy their projects with more scalability, privacy, and security. Our storage layer can be used by them as the backend.
We have much more capacity already live than all blockchain projects combined out there even though we have stayed quiet about it. For the past years we have been busy building, building, building. Now we are ready for collaboration.
Question 8. You will agree that security remains one of the major shortcomings of the current Internet protocol. How does the Threefold Network address this pain point?
Indeed, the current Internet system has never been designed with security in mind, security has been an afterthought and has led to a lot of complexity and frankly we have not been able to address the main issues. The current system is broken by design.
The system we have created is different, everything we’ve done had a security focus in mind. When you build a decentralized system, security needs to be the primary concern to deal with.
It’s actually too much to answer in a few sentences, but we have re-invented a stateless operating system that has almost no hacking surface (means there is nothing to attack, our operating system has no shell, no remote procedure call interfaces, there is no way for any person, hacker or not to go inside the operating system and execute commands).
We have reinvented a specific type of blockchain which makes it possible for people to define their workloads and store them in a blockchain, and then as a consequence these workloads become reality. We call this smart contract for IT.
We have also created a super secure distributed storage system which is distributed in such a way that you would have to be in 16 places at the same time, know the encryption keys, know where the data is and understand our algorithms before physically the data can be decoded. This makes this system super difficult (we hope impossible) to hack.
The main security improvement is the fact that people are not involved in the operation of the operating systems of this Internet system. This reduces the possibility for human error as well as malicious intent.
Of course we still have a way to go. There are still pieces in there which we want and will change before we can talk about a true autonomous self healing Internet system, but we believe we are closer than most.
Question 9. How do the perceived frailties of distributed networks affect the efficacy of a decentralized Internet, and what are the measures put in place to tackle them?
Our approach is very different than what has been done so far. We believe that “decentralization” is not per se blockchain. In fact many current blockchain technologies are not decentralized enough. We believe the best decentralized system is one where every person is the center of their own digital universe. We do this by providing a digital avatar (3Bot) to every person or legal entity. These 3Bots need IT resources to exist. In our case these IT resources are our ThreeFold self managing grid of IT capacity.
All 3Bots are registered in a blockchain-based phonebook, which allows them to find each other. As a person, we only communicate with our own 3Bot, and it will autonomously communicate and exchange information with all other relevant 3Bots. A 3Bot is like your personal Internet server which takes care of your data (photos, videos, documents, news, identity) and backend for a new type of decentralized applications. A 3Bot can be small or super big. A 3Bot cannot die and can migrate from one physical country to another. A 3Bot uses its own version of what we call a blockchain database which has all the same properties of any other blockchain but is private, faster, and more flexible.
Each 3Bot buys it own required IT resources by means of our ThreeFold Tokens, and our data distribution algorithms and personal blockchain makes sure that the data is 100% private, secure, and cannot be lost. This system is very reliable by design and can survive outages of networks and physical nodes (depending on chosen redundancy level – e.g. 20 nodes in 20 different locations at the same time can be lost before there would be downtime).
Our system can be thought of like cells in a body, just like nature. Every cell is a 3Bot and the body is the IT capacity or the new Internet.
Question 10. Your company introduced the Threefold Network in 2017, and your team has worked tirelessly ever since. What have you achieved thus far?
Actually we started working on this much before. For me personally, I am working on this since 1995. Creating a self healing and self driving Internet has always been our dream. Quite some people in our team have been working on this for more than 10 years. In 2011 we called our concept “IT as energy” and have been building iteration after iteration. All of our technology since then has been created open source. It’s only since 2017 that we added blockchain to the concept of self healing IT capacity. Still today we are leveraging many of those components, especially Jumpscale, which goes back a long time. We are now at its 10e generation.
We started working on our own operating system a couple of years ago, together with our own version of a digital currency blockchain called Rivine.
Since our first launch in March 2018 there is now more than 40M GB of storage capacity online and more than 15,000 CPU cores.
We also managed to find some great business friends. For example, we have a great partnership with HPE (large global IT vendor), Kleos (5G technology provider) and Solidaridad (company supporting more than 1 million farmers and owning brands such as Fairtrade).
From a deployment perspective, Our ThreeFold v1.0 has been released in March 2019 and now in Jan 2020 we will launch our new release v2.0.
Question 11. ThreeFold’s Testnet 2.0 has been out for a while now. Are you impressed with what you have witnessed so far?
How can we say no? There are 3 main parts to our solution. The Zero-OS is now also v2.0 and has been improved on a lot of areas and the results are very promising and we are super happy about. The Rivine blockchain is in use for a while now and works as expected. Our Zero-Bot – which is our self healing and self recovery platform – just became reality and still needs some improvements.
The scalability of the system is very good, we have been very impressed with what we saw so far. Documentation wise we are seriously behind. Biggest complaint from any startup company I guess. We wanna do quite some more testing though.
Question 12. Do you think you have done enough to get people to contribute to your ecosystem, seeing that the reach of Internet facility is tied to the number of hardware connected to the grid?
It depends what our definition is for enough! For us our solution promotes fairness, digital independence and equality, so we believe that with values like ours, the whole world should be excited to be a part of it. As I mentioned before, the current Internet system was never designed with security in mind and you constantly hear stories of fraud and malicious activity online which really affects a lot of people’s comfort being online and interacting with the Internet. In a time where more and more people are caring about their digital privacy and digital footprint, we think that through organic awareness, more and more people will be interested to be a part of our new ecosystem.
One of our major partnerships with HPE reflects how even major IT hardware manufacturers are super excited about our solution and its potential impact on global digital freedom. With HPE helping manufacture our 3Nodes, it significantly decreases complexities regarding a person’s ability to contribute freely to our grid. It’s literally as simple as plugging and playing. All you need is a power source and an Internet connection to boot up your 3Node. Not only that, but the fact that we can offer users the ability to host their own data on their own 3Node is a novel service that prioritizes a user’s comfort regarding how their personal data is accessed.
We’ve also greatly incentivized a user’s decision to contribute to our grid by purchasing their own nodes and even setting up their own farm – making sure they’re rewarded for helping keep our grid active and increasing in capacity.
Question 13. What is next on ThreeFold’s development phase, and when are we to expect the network to fully launch?
In January 2020 our grid v2.0 will go public on production net (our ThreeFold Token blockchain) which means that anybody or any organization will be able to reserve capacity and run their workloads. The grid by itself is still in beta though and we will keep it like that for a while until we decide all together that it’s time to call it production.
This v2.0 is a major release with many new exciting features like Kubernetes support, smart contract for IT concept, the ZeroBot autonomous bot which can act as a virtual system administrator. Just like Docker our current platform is focused towards developers and expert IT administrators at this phase. You need to not be afraid to use some command line tools and some easy scripting.
Soon, improvements will be mainly around documentation, wizard based deployments, system development kit, etc.
Question 14. What are your thoughts about the move by some entities to separate blockchain from crypto technology. Do you think that one can be successful without the other?
To me digital currencies are just one possible use case of blockchain technology. Blockchain is such a big word that most don’t even know where it starts or ends. For me it’s all quite confusing to be honest. It’s overhyped for sure. Blockchain, crypto… these words opened up a new wave of many exciting technology possibilities. Bitcoin is great because it inspires a lot of people, it has demonstrated that decentralization is possible. Also this technology domain will evolve in many different ways, just like at one point of time Virtualization was the hottest trend ever, today it became a commodity and is used everywhere.
Question 15. Lastly, what are your projections for the blockchain and crypto space?
Both blockchain and crypto are here to stay. Blockchain is an incredible technology that is and will for sure be integrated fully into the IT landscape. In 5 to 10 years from now we won’t talk about blockchain as a separate concept, we believe it will be fully integrated and become part of any new future technology. It will become a commodity just like virtualization did.
For cryptocurrencies (digital currencies), many will fail and consolidation will happen like in any new revolutionary concept but it will stay and become an integrated part of our future physical and digital life, that we are convinced about. I am a super big fan of the so called stable coins or commodity/utility tokens. They have the potential to serve as reliable digital currencies.
Some examples: a share of a company becomes a tradable token, or why not a kg of coffee or cacao which would open up new funding possibilities for poor farmers in emerging countries.
Decentralization technologies and concepts in general are the most exciting concepts I’ve come across during my IT career, it’s a far reaching concept which has the capability to change the world as we know it.