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ArDrive Raises $17.2m to Supercharge Arweave Gateway Decentralization

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ArDrive has recently raised 17.2m in an investment round led by Arweave Team, Blockchain Capital and Sino Global Capital to build a decentralized alternative to the current gateway model.

Gateways are the portal to the permaweb. Every application that reads data, sends transactions, and queries Arweave needs one. They ensure that your file data is sufficiently seeded to the underlying mining nodes of the network, cache and serve your data from the moment your transactions reach the network, and provide a searchable index for the transaction tag data that powers some of the permaweb’s most essential dApps.

The main gateway most applications use is arweave.net – operated by the Arweave team.  But it stands at risk of being overloaded, as it is the major access point in an otherwise highly decentralized system. Why is it that Arweave has so few gateways?

The problem is that gateways are generally difficult and costly to run and upkeep. There’s no upside for the gateway operator, either. It’s a pure expense. In the case of arweave.net, the Arweave team is incentivized to keep it alive, but unlike being a miner there’s no way for operators to earn back enough to cover costs or make profits.

“An open protocol for providing incentivized access to the Arweave will open opportunities for a new class of PermaWeb service providers that give apps and their users a better quality of service from a decentralized network.” – Phil Mataras, ArDrive/AR.IO Founder

Gateways are one of the most crucial parts of the network but also one of the most overlooked. It comes down to incentives – good incentive design sparks competition, decentralization and innovation. If it were to be in the gateway operator’s financial interests to provide a faster, more reliable experience than the current solutions, the gateway ecosystem would decentralize itself and improve at a faster rate.

The Arweave.net gateway evolved as network demands grew, making it unique and difficult to be built upon.   The Arweave team recognized this and the need for more gateways, so they formed a gateway-focused team, including Hlöðver Sigurðsson, to work on an open source, easy-to-deploy container-based gateway called Vartex in March 2021.

Now, 9 months later, Arweave.net and the Vartex project are now being rolled into an incentivized, decentralized network of gateway nodes called AR.IO.

What is AR.IO?

The AR.IO project – lead by the ArDrive team and advised by key gateway and mining pool developers – is an improved gateway tool with an incentivization layer that aims to democratize, decentralize and enhance gateways. 

AR.IO is building both a better gateway and a way to make it profitable for anyone with the right hardware to run one. Having received $17.2 million in funding to help facilitate this project, ArDrive continues to be a central figure in the Arweave community, offering accessibility and technical user ease.  With 8.4% of all data on Arweave currently stored via ArDrive, the platform has continued to be embraced by web3 advocates.

Later this year, AR.IO is looking to deploy a testnet and start working with new Gateway operators to stress test the different components.  AR.IO will provide enhancements to the seeding, caching and indexing capabilities beyond what’s available today with Vartex or Arweave.net.  After mainnet launch, the existing legacy Arweave.net gateway will begin to participate in this new open and decentralized network. 

How will these incentives manifest? It’s up to the gateway operator. Applications who don’t want to run their own gateway could buy access to these new AR.IO super-gateways in a way similar to the common API key / SaaS model.  Additionally, gateway operations could be subsidized by DAOs, communities or sponsors, to provide great quality of service at a low (or no) price.

On the other hand, applications are already incentivized to deliver a fast and reliable user experience, and may want to run a specialized version of a gateway. For example, a gateway that only loads data that the app itself submitted, or one optimized to handle particular types of queries the app needs to fulfill regularly. For these use cases, application owners can simply spin up an AR.IO gateway, configure it to their needs, and offer it for free to users of their application – no need for an extra incentive layer.

Gateways in Arweave are presently distributed, but not redundantly decentralised. ARIO fixes this in a powerful way — ensuring wider access and more choice for permaweb users. – Sam Williams, founder of Arweave

While the technology, economics and implementation details are being written, a full gateway is expected to require a minimum of an 8-core CPU, 16GB of RAM and 2TB of storage. AR.IO will not be optimized for micro-deployments, but it may be possible to slim down the workload of a gateway significantly and reduce the hardware requirements in cases where the gateway is designed only to interact with one type of application (e.g. only caches a very small number of transactions and does not offer a computation-heavy query layer).

What’s happening to Vartex, Arweave.net, and the ARDRIVE token?

Vartex, the open source gateway tool built to decentralize Arweave away from Arweave.net, will be merged into AR.IO. Vartex’s main team will join AR.IO to develop the next generation of gateways. Arweave.net will transition to use this new gateway client and move from being operated by the core Arweave team to being managed by the AR.IO DAO.

The ARDRIVE token is not going anywhere!  It will continue to function as the governance token for the ArDrive DAO, and token holders will still receive tips generated from the ArDrive platform.

AR.IO will operate on a new token model, built on the Arweave native Smartweave platform. The AR.IO token will be used for DAO governance, provide network security through slashing of bad actors, and ensuring quality of service and other potential utilities.  

When can we expect these new supercharged gateways?

The ArDrive team is working towards a release of an MVP later this year. After a period of testing, a mainnet will launch and integrate multi-chain crypto payments (similar to Bundlr) as well as connectors to centralized fiat payment services like Stripe.

By the end of 2022, it’s expected that Arweave.net will be running all-new software and a host of other independent gateways will be active, offering a more robust and decentralized gateway ecosystem with a better experience for end users. 

In the meantime, the arweave.net gateway code has been open sourced, and is available on the new AR.IO github repository.  Teams are invited to check out the code and services that will evolve into the new AR.IO gateway.

The ArDrive team is scaling out and hiring new technical and non-technical roles. Check out their jobs page to learn more or join their new Discord channel to let them know your thoughts on these new super charged gateways and hear about project updates.

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