Vitalik’s Beef with Elon’s Dogecoin Scalability Plan: Security vs. Scalability

Elon Musk says that a bigger block size will increase Dogecoin's scalability, but is the answer really that simple?

Tesla founder, Elon Musk believes that a 1000% increase to Dogecoin’s block size will make DOGE the leader of the pack, but Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin does not agree.

In a recent post on his personal blog, Vitalik took issue with Elon’s claim that a massive increase to Dogecoin’s block size would scale the network to a ‘winning’ level. The exact claim in question? “Ideally, Doge speeds up block time 10X, increases block size 10X & drops fee 100X. Then it wins hands down,” Elon wrote on May 15th.

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So, what is wrong with this picture? According to Vitalik, Musk’s ideas about increasing block size fail to address the so-called ‘blockchain trilemma’: the inevitable trade-off between scalability, security and centralization on blockchain networks.

“Just how far can you push the scalability of a blockchain? Can you really, as Elon Musk wishes, ‘speed up block time 10X, increase block size 10X & drop fee 100X’ without leading to extreme centralization?” Vitalik posed at the beginning of his blog post.

According to Vitalik, the answer is no: as it turns out, increasing scalability on a network is nearly impossible to do “without leading to extreme centralization and compromising the fundamental properties that make a blockchain what it is.”

“For a Blockchain to Be Decentralized, It’s Crucially Important for Regular Users to Be Able to Run a Node.”

Why is this? Vitalik argued that increasing block size so vastly may make it impossible for the vast majority of Dogecoin holders to run full nodes, which is a factor that could lead to extreme centralization.

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“For a blockchain to be decentralized, it’s crucially important for regular users to be able to run a node, and to have a culture where running nodes is a common activity,” he wrote.

Therefore, “To maximize the number of users who can run a node,” Vitalik argued that it is important to ensure that running a node is possible “on regular consumer hardware,” he wrote.

To that end, “There are three key limitations to a full node’s ability to process a large number of transactions,” he said: computing power, bandwidth, and storage.

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As it turns out, Vitalik argues that on any full node, only “~5-10% of CPU power can be spent on block verification.” In other words, full node operators must have much more CPU than is actually used on verifying transactions. If blocks are too large, the amount of required CPU power could grow astronomically, making it impossible for the vast majority of users to operate full nodes successfully.

The bandwidth and digital storage requirements required to confirm massive blocks of transaction data would make it very difficult and expensive to run full nodes.

“Given the realities of current internet connections, how many bytes can a block contain?” Vitalik asked.

“How many gigabytes on disk can we require users to store? Also, how quickly must it be readable? (ie. is HDD okay or do we need SSD?)”

Therefore, Vitalik explained, increasing block size could lead to centralization and could leave a blockchain network much more vulnerable to attack.

“We don’t know what the exact threshold is at which herd immunity against coordinated attacks kicks in, but there is one thing that’s absolutely clear: more nodes good, fewer nodes bad, and we definitely need more than a few dozen or few hundred,” he wrote.

Concerns of over-centralization of mining and full node operators have previously been expressed about the Bitcoin network. However, mining pools that control a large portion of the network’s hash power have previously said that allowing changes to Bitcoin’s protocol would be self-defeating.

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