Is Ethereum ready to resolve the scaling challenge?

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At EDCON, the ethereum developers’ conference in Toronto, Vitalik Buterin joked, “Sleep? What is this word?” as he addressed the audience and discussed with a panel how to tackle ethereum’s biggest challenge: scaling.

The discussion featured Vlad Zamfir, Philip Daian, Joseph Poon, Karl Floersch, Hsiao-Wei Wang and Justin Drake, and the joking was left to one side as the talked about the enormity of this task for the platform.

The scaling problem became apparent some six months back when Cryptokitties almost brought the ethereum blockchain to a standstill, due to its popularity. And it is an issue that Buterin has acknowledged more recently, saying that the current state of scaling is holding back app developers.

Zamfir, the developer behind ethereum’s upcoming consensus algorithm change, also gave voice to the doubts: “I still don’t know how scalable it can get. I don’t know, I can’t even quantify the possible scalability of the blockchain, really.”

But, all is not lost, ethereum still has a lot going for it, because there are numerous solutions to scalability coming through, such as Raiden, Plasma, Liquidity Network, Loom Network, OmiseGO, sharding, state channels and others now in the earliest stages of development.

“What keeps me up at night is that not that many people know how to solve it,” said Floersch, a crypto-economics researcher who works on scaling solution Plasma.

Two roads to success

Buterin and others at the conference were positive that understanding of the challenge was getting better, but said that there were essentially two ways to deal with scaling. These are layer-one technologies, like sharding that necessitate changes to the ethereum blockchain, and “layer-two” technologies, which can be built independently and added to the blockchain without a fundamental change.

All solutions are being pursued at the same time and hopefully they might be combined to deliver an even better solution. Buterin said: “For every single problem, multiple solutions exist.” He added: “If for some reason the trolls are right and sharding gets delayed by five years then guess what, next year we still have awesome state channel networks and we still have Raiden and we still have liquidity and whatever else is being built.”

Buterin is optimistic that a solution will be found within the year, while others think that is too optimistic and put a five-year timeline on resolving the scaling challenge.

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