HANOVER, Germany—My first glance at Acute Angle and their cloud project didn’t look promising. The man sitting opposite me in a sort of editorial speed-dating event was holding a computer shaped like a triangle. There was a Bitcoin symbol on the computer. I got ready for another pitch on why Bitcoin was awesome.
But I was wrong. While Acute Angle does have a place in the world of crypto-currency, that’s not what’s transformative about what this company is up to. Instead, what’s important about Acute Angle is their cloud service. Crypto-currency is an enabling technology.
After their 3-minute pitch, which was during a press event at the CEBIT trade show here, I got a glimpse at the long term implications of what Acute Angle had in mind. Later I sat down with Charles Rego who is the company’s international operations director, who explained what was really going on.
In the process of trying to create a new way of trading crypto-currency, the engineers at Acute Angle had found a way to create a distributed cloud that could offer traditional cloud services without the traditional cloud infrastructure. Instead, the Acute Angle Cloud would exist on thousands of small-scale servers and personal computers linked together to form the cloud.
“We’re using edge cloud computing,” explained Rego. The idea is to sign up thousand of edge computers, which are the computers you use every day, to provide compute services and to use the storage attached to them to provide storage.
Rego said that compute jobs would be divided up between several of the computers on the network, which would then process the compute task and return the results. He used the widely used AutoCAD drafting and engineering program, as an example of a compute task that could benefit from compute services offered in a distributed cloud environment.
Those edge computers would not be entirely dedicated to the job of providing cloud services. Instead, they would do that work in their idle time, while being available for their usual workday tasks when needed.
The idea of dividing up compute services among many computers is not new. The University of California’s Berkeley Space Science Institute first developed that idea with its SETI at Home project in which volunteers agreed to run an application that would take part of a compute intensive task and work on it by dividing the project among many computers.
The difference with Acute Angle Cloud is that it’s dividing the entire cloud service among thousands of computers and distributing workloads and storage among them. The cloud service pays for the time on those computers either through crypto-currency payments to the owners of those computers, or as a trade-off to companies providing idle time on their computers to operate the cloud service.
As with SETI, those who join choose to link up with the Acute Angle can set limits on how much of their compute resources can be accessed by cloud and they can they take back full access to their systems whenever they want.
Acute Angle is currently running a test network with 30,000 Windows 10 computers they’ve built and sent out to users who have agreed to participate in the tests.
Those resources are bound into what Rego described as a super network. The super network will consist of 31 super nodes, which exist to process the blockchain ledger that is the underpinning of the AAC, which is uses smart contracts to keep the accounting straight. Rego that the company will add more nodes if AAC becomes successful enough to require them.
Communications between the edge computers takes place through a content distribution network that’s based on bit torrent data transfer technology. The actual cloud workloads are identified by a hash that is generated when you use the service.
“It works like a torrent system,” Rego said. “You get a hash, which is the address. When you download it, the data is reassembled. There’s no central server that keeps the information.”
The fact that there’s no central server helps make it more secure, but there’s a potential downside, which is, if you lose your hash, you could lose your content.
On the other hand, the distributed architecture also enhances security. Your workload is divided among several computers and is encrypted. If someone tries to break into one of the computers that is part of the infrastructure, all they could see is random data. In addition, the data is copied to more than one node, so the loss of a node would not mean the loss of any data.
Rego said that the company expects to start offering cloud services to the public in September. In the meantime, the company is working to recruit computers to be part of the infrastructure. The first computers being brought online will form the foundation of the cloud that that will initially be put to work mining crypto-currency, for which the owners of those computers will be paid.
Acute Angle has offices in Beijing, Shenzhen, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Seattle. Most of the company’s investors and managers are also based in Asia.
Right now, it’s by no means certain that AAC will redefine the cloud by itself, but the cloud needs to move beyond the concentrations of vast data centers into a model that’s more sustainable. Already community protests about the construction of those data centers and the power lines that feed them is routine.
But more important, while the term “cloud” is new, the concept is old, drawing on the model of the old mainframe computer days where the term was “client-server.” Acute Angle may have found a truly distributed cloud in its work on blockchain technology, but over the long run, it’s what’s needed.
The cloud really needs to become a cloud, not just a data center in some other county. This appears to be the problem that Acute Angle is working on and in the process has perhaps shown us the future of the cloud.