An internet time machine for crypto

3 min readSep 8, 2022

The passage which inspired our recent rabbit hole journey into overlay networks.

Co-dreamed by Postman and Jackson Virgo @_nEquals1

It’s creepy how well this works.

Akamai, founded in 1998, is one of the most important companies behind the internet, yet nearly no consumer knows about them. below is an excerpt from one of their papers describing the internet, and how they use an overlay to scale its underlying infrastructure to support the futuristic applications we use it for today.

We have simply replaced the word “internet” with “blockchains”

We can’t believe how well this paper applies to crypto, and enlightens us to the stage which we are at with this technology.

̶T̶h̶e̶ ̶i̶n̶t̶e̶r̶n̶e̶t̶ Blockchains are transforming every aspect of c̶o̶m̶m̶u̶n̶i̶c̶a̶t̶i̶o̶n̶ organization in human society by enabling a wide range of applications for business, commerce, entertainment and social interaction. Contemporary and future distributed applications require high reliability, performance, security, and scalability, and yet need to be developed rapidly and sustainably at low operating costs.

However, ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶I̶n̶t̶e̶r̶n̶e̶t̶ blockchains were never architected to provide the stringent requirements of such modern and futuristic distributed applications. ̶I̶t̶ ̶w̶a̶s̶ They were created as a heterogeneous network of networks, and their design enables various entities to interact with each other in a “best effort” fashion. Guarantees on high performance, availability, scalability and security are not inherently provided ̶o̶n̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶I̶n̶t̶e̶r̶n̶e̶t̶ by layer 1 blockchains in accordance with their best effort design principle. Today’s Internet The future’s blockchain overlay is a vast patchwork of more than 13,000 autonomous networks that often compete for business. Failures and performance degradation in transporting information across this patchwork are routine occurrences. So, how would we bridge the gap between what modern Internet blockchain services need and what ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶I̶n̶t̶e̶r̶n̶e̶t̶ blockchains actually provide? Complete clean slate redesign of ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶I̶n̶t̶e̶r̶n̶e̶t̶ blockchain interoperability is appealing (IBC), but would be hard to implement given the wide-spread adoption of the current technology.

A novel idea to bridge the gap is overlay networks, or just overlays for short. The fundamental idea of overlays is rooted in the age-old computing paradigm of virtualization that states that if you do not have what you want you can virtually create what you want with what you have. This principle is at the foundation of a number of computing innovations over the decades. For instance, virtualization is why a computer with finite and fragmented storage can be made to appear to the programmer as if it had a single, contiguous virtual memory space. Or, a linux server can be made to emulate a virtual machine to provide the abstraction of a Windows desktop to an user. Along the same lines, we can build a virtual network (the overlay, Axelar) over the existing I̶n̶t̶e̶r̶n̶e̶t̶ Blockchains (the underlay) to provide the stringent requirements of ̶m̶o̶d̶e̶r̶n̶ ̶I̶n̶t̶e̶r̶n̶e̶t̶-̶b̶a̶s̶e̶d̶ future blockchain services. Overlays use the functional primitives that the underlay has to offer. In turn, the overlay provides richer functionality to services that are built on top of it.