Interview with Gilles Fedak: iExec CEO & Co-Founder
iExec (RLC) is a Blockchain based cloud computing platform that was initially launched back in 2016 and completed an ICO the year thereafter.
Since then, iExec has been actively building out their protocol and have made extensive progress towards the goals envisioned in their initial Roadmap. One of these was the technology incorporated iExec V3 which the team officially released today.
We decided to reach out to the iExec team to ask them more about the project, it's technology, V3 and it's broader vision. The Co-Founder and CEO, Gilles Fedak PhD, was happy to answer our questions.
Gilles Fedak Interview
Below is the long form written interview that the Coin Bureau conducted with Gilles Fedak PhD:
On Yourself and iExec Founding
Let’s start with a bit of background on yourself. How did you get involved in blockchain technology and distributed system engineering?
I have a research background in computer science and in parallel and distributed computing more specifically, with a particular emphasis on the problematic of using large and loosely-coupled distributed computing infrastructures to support highly demanding computational and data-intensive science.
What spurred the creation of iExec and when was it envisioned?
Distributed computing solution has been developed for many years. But the lack of proof of contribution mechanism and transparent payment make it impossible for mass adoption. However, things have changed after the rise of the blockchain technology.
We found out that the characters of the blockchain technology can solve current problems of decentralized cloud computing perfectly. Such as proof of contribution, smart contract, etc. Hence, that’s why we created iExec. To make the current solution better combining the blockchain technology.
On V3 Roadmap & Development
iExec V3 is well on track to meet the goals as outlined in your 2016 whitepaper! Meeting such long milestones is extremely rare for other blockchain projects. How did you manage to keep workflow on track?
There are several factors to make sure everything goes as expected.
First, before we started the development, we made thorough thinking and planning to make sure every step was feasible. Second, after successful ICO in 2017, we got sufficient resources to keep everything on track.
Third, we are able to find the best team of business and tech in the world to execute the plan. Last but not least, we got the support of French government from both financial side and policy side. Of course, there are always some unexpected factors, but with the best team we have, we adapt quickly and always deliver in time.
Following on from the above, what were some of the major changes between the release envisioned in the whitepaper and the currently planned one?
The main difference is the inclusion of TEE technology that wasn’t mainstream in 2016 at the time of writing. The team is proud to have delivered this in addition, as well as the Data Store. However, that is not all! iExec always has up its sleeve!
You guys previously stated that you are considering a sidechain implementation. How is this going? How will the initial implementation look in iExec V3?
Yes we are planning an initial implementation as part of the iExec V3. This involves the deployment of bridge and POA chains. This stack will allow us to establish use cases for consortiums that have the need for shared computation. The sidechain is used by the consortium, which can implement their own data and computing resource sharing policy.
We are continuing our experimentation with emerging technologies such as Substrate and one of our lead dev, François Branciard, gave a first presentation of iExec approach during EthCC Conference.
Tell us a bit more about open decentralized brokering and its role in V3?
In the Open Decentralized Brokering (ODB), the role of brokers is to gather four different orders together: requester, dataset, application and worker pool orders. This matching is done off-chain, then a smart contract (on-chain) verifies the compatibility between orders and triggers the off-chain execution.
This new form of brokering is decentralized in the sense that iExec as a company doesn’t control it: this is one of the new business models that we’ll see emerge in the future. This is very exciting from every standpoints.
In March you released an upgrade to your SDKs in anticipation of the V3 launch. What are the main benefits to developers? How has this been received by the iExec developer community?
That’s right, the Developer Version was ready in March for EthCC Conference, it’s part of the agile delivery process. The workshop during the conference was pretty successful: participants were able to play with the new version of the SDK and discover what can be done with iExec V3.
The iExec (Software Development Kit) is a CLI and a JS library offering developers the tools to interact with iExec. The SDK allows to easily contribute resources and monetize datasets as well as run off-chain computations and interact with the iExec marketplace. For iExec V3, the SDK has been given a major upgrade, including higher security as well as changes to developer workflow for improvements to general ease-of-use.
The SDK includes everything you need to manage your wallet, load resources to the marketplace and manage interactions with other participants of the market network. In other words, the iExec SDK basically allows you to turn any legacy application into a decentralized app.
On iExec V3 Core Release
You guys have just released your new iExec core V3 to replace your old xtremweb middleware. What were the main motivations for this?
The original idea was to offer a platform allowing the voluntary sharing of computers with the aim of solving research problems. Since 2013, we have studied monetization of volunteer computing resources, aggregated by XtremWeb, in a French National Research Agency founded project. For several reasons it appeared to be unrealistic at that stage until we understand better the advantages of cryptocurrencies.
In mid-2018, the decision was made to rebuild the middleware from scratch. The key was to keep the essence of the original workflow, which has been running like a charm for many years in the volunteer sharing era. iExec specific features within a new middleware, ‘iExec Core’. This included a new architecture, a standard protocol, a dedicated task workflow, a logic separated in services and components as well as a clean DevOps pipeline.
There were quite a few innovative changes with this updated middleware. Which of these do you think was the most important?
The main innovation of iExec V3 is the Data Wallet, allowing for new business models through ‘data renting’. Data providers can list their valuable datasets or AI models, and through iExec, these can be used with an application combined with remote computing power. The providers of the datasets, applications, and computing power are all rewarded through the decentralized iExec Marketplace.
Trained neural networks are an example of valuable datasets that can be rented and monetized through the iExec Data Wallet. They are highly valuable as their training requires time, money and huge amounts of data. Such valuable and sensitive data can be monetized and used in a wide range of industries from healthcare to fintech to cyber-security.
This was released in early April. How has the implementation been going? Have you been getting any feedback from the community?
Feedback from our dev community is absolutely essential. Back in January 2019, we’ve released an alpha version of the product which was showcased during the EthCC Conference in Paris in March. But the official release of iExec V3 was out just a few days ago and we’ve planned several different operations to facilitate interactions between the dev team and iExec early adopters. There is a public pool available and everyone is invited to join!
The next big features that are about to be released are IPFS support and Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) workflow. How is development on these coming?
iExec supports IPFS as one of the main storage system on the platform and we will support others in the future. The iExec TEE solution was first released in November 2018 and it allows for ‘data renting’: in V3, data owners can now rent their datasets and trained machine learning models without ever exposing them, they’re actually selling the results of the computation.
We’ve recently released A Developer Guide to Enhance Blockchain Scalability with TEE that contains the Off-Chain Trusted Compute Specification V1.0 in collaboration with Intel and Consensys.
On Other iExec Developments
Dapp development on iExec is another exciting aspect to the project. Can you tell us about some of the most interesting Dapps currently being powered by iExec? What makes them so interesting?
The use case I’m really excited about is the monetization of trained AI models. It requires a lot of time and efforts to train these AI and machine learning models: data providers of the network can price their datasets as they want, then the end user enjoys the results of these predictions and analysis one a pay-per-task basis.
There’s another how can you build dapps that are truly useful? How can you give your dapps access to the real world without compromising on their integrity? Well, we have the answer: you may want to rely on a decentralized oracle or, ‘doracle’! We’re very happy to announce this new feature on iExec, and we’re very confident it’s gonna address real pain points that dapp developers experience with blockchain.
Who can benefit from this? Well, all sorts of dapps that rely heavily on web 2.0 data. Stables coins, like DAI, decentralized insurances, like Etherisc, tokenized assets. All of these can make use of decentralized oracles instead of centralized ones to make them more resilient.
This is a feature that has been requested from us many times. So we made it happen. Documentation is live, go check it, and see you on Slack to take it even further!
You have had a number of business development meetings recently. How have these discussions been going? Which of these are you most excited about?
We do have a lot of business meetings around the world. The discussions are often very interesting because we’re exploring new business models together.
I’m most excited when a new ‘vertical’ or niche market is identified: app, dataset and worker pool providers realize they can collaborate in a seamless way and form a real market network thanks to iExec. Companies can use iExec to create new revenue streams and this is something we’re really proud about.
With the decrease of GPU costs, there seem to have lots of meaningful synergies between different kinds of participants, including more established and industrial partners like Alibaba Cloud and IBM Cloud.
Some of these partners are very interested in the TEE solution iExec is offering because they actually need an efficient solution: we’re among the very first to leverage hardware enclaves as a new feature of these machines.
iExec has also been active in fostering growth in the blockchain ecosystem. The most recent example of this is your partnership with the H7 incubator in Lyon. How has this been going? What impact do you hope iExec can have in the Lyon startup ecosystem?
It makes sense to work with companies of Rhône Alpes region. It is one of the most dynamic in terms of growth and key players. H7 is the biggest startup incubator in Lyon and iExec has become their blockchain partner, which means that we’ll share our expertise in this specific field with demanding startups. H7 is just opening here in Lyon and we like the approach which consists in connecting companies ready for series A with investors.
On Broader Ecosystem
There are a lot of important updates that are currently taking place on the Ethereum protocol. Which of these are you most excited about?
I think Ethereum remains the most vibrant community in the crypto space. Both scalability and transaction cost issues are being addressed. The beacon chain (PoS) will here for the consensus between shards will also provide an unpredictable source of random, which we could use to select workers within a pool and potentially increase the level of decentralization.
The environmental aspects also matter to us. Ethereum 2.0 will be more scalable with an environmental footprint dramatically reduced. I think the time has come to show that blockchain is not only bitcoin’s PoW: people are taking the control back over their data and avoid the worst for next generations at the same time.
What is your view about the current state of blockchain development? Which other projects or applications do you see the most applicable use cases for the technology?
According to our own experience, big corporations are more willing to accept crypto-assets in their business than we could think. They’re ready to experiment a lot of things but not necessarily in the current state of blockchains development: most of them need private transactions and other specific features such as IBFT.
Initiatives like Corda, Quorum or Hyperledger always had an interest, but now that we’re capable to bridge different chains together, it’s getting more and more interesting from a business standpoint.
What are you personally most proud of as it relates to V3, iExec and the broader work that you guys have been doing?
Deliver what was promised during the ICO is important and we’ve announced the upcoming version of iExec (V4) would be delivered in advance. This is all made possible by our amazing dev and business team, but also to our community that I want to thank here because nothing would have been possible without their active support. We’re proud to build the infrastructures of tomorrow with you!
Is there anything else you want to share with our readers?
If you’re interested or if you want to learn more about the project and get involved, feel free to drop us a line on Slack or Telegram. You can also subscribe to our newsletter to receive project updates.
As a worker, you can create or join a worker pool, and as a data owner you can share your datasets or machine learning trained models at your conditions, and as a developer you’re invited to play around with the SDK.
It does indeed seem as though there are big plans on the horizon for iExec. Decentralised computing power is one of the most applicable use cases for blockchain technology and it is great to see that they are forging a path ahead.
iExec V3 is one of the most exciting releases to date and will include a number of updates that could propel the project forward. We look forward to following the project in the coming months as the improvements in V3 are borne out.
If you wanted to buy RLC tokens then the best place to do this would be on the Binance Exchange. If you wanted to keep up to date with the latest from the project then you can follow their Twitter where they share information regularly with the community.
Disclaimer: These are the writer’s opinions and should not be considered investment advice. Readers should do their own research.