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NodeReal Looks to Offer Amazon-Like Infrastructure Specific to Enterprise Blockchain Deployments

Blockchain Journal editor-in-chief David Berlind interviews Dr. Ben Zhang, the co-founder and chief operating officer of NodeReal, at Consensus 2023 in Austin, Texas. NodeReal claims to be a one-stop infrastructure provider that eases access to public and private blockchain services for enterprises that don't want to build their own blockchain application infrastructure from scratch. In many ways, NodeReal is positioning itself as a turnkey AWS-like provider for distributed ledger infrastructure.

However, David questions why a company would want to build their own blockchains when private blockchain technologies (eg: Hyperledger) and public blockchains already exist. Dr. Zhang argues that Web3 technology is changing the ownership of data and many companies, such as gaming companies, see benefits such as quicker access to customers and better incentives to engage with their users through blockchain-driven decentralization of their applications in private, public, or hybrid scenarios and that solutions like those from NodeReal can give them a big head start.

Overall, the interview provides insight into why companies should be interested in building their own blockchains and the role of NodeReal in providing infrastructure services for these companies. It also highlights the benefits and challenges of building private blockchains and the importance of considering how Web3 technology can benefit businesses. (The full-text transcript appears below.)


By David Berlind

Published:May 5, 2023

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10 min read

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Audio-Only Podcast

David Berlind's Interview with Dr. Ben Zhang Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer, NodeReal

David Berlind: Today is April 26th, 2023. This is the Blockchain Journal podcast. I'm David Berlind, your host, and today I am coming to you from Consensus 2023 in Austin, Texas, where we're on the show floor surrounded by all kinds of exhibitors showing off all kinds of wares for the blockchain industry. The attendees are people from all walks. Retail investors, [and] enterprise people who are investing in blockchain as an application platform. Standing with me right now is Dr. Ben Zhang. He is the co-founder and chief operating officer of a company called NodeReal. Ben, thank you very much for joining me on the show.

Dr. Ben Zhang: Thanks, David, for [having] me, yeah.

Berlind:It's great to have you. So, NodeReal, let's start there and talk a little bit about what NodeReal does and how it might benefit enterprises. And then we'll go from there.

Dr. Zhang: Sure. NodeReal is a one-stop infrastructure provider. We set up this company two years ago, and so far, we are providing blockchain access service and also enterprise service for the blockchain itself, which means if you are from the enterprise if you want to build your own blockchain, we can help you right from the blockchain itself and also [for] blockchain access.

Berlind: Wait a minute, you say build your own blockchain. Why would anybody want to build their own blockchain? There's already... I don't know how many public blockchains [are] out there. There are some private blockchain technologies. Why would anybody want to build their own?

Dr. Zhang: Yeah. When we are talking about the enterprise, especially for example, if you are considering Web2 centers, a lot of the enterprise person, they're starting from the private side, using the cloud as an example. They're starting from the private cloud, then [they] go to the public cloud because in the enterprise there's complex requirements in terms of the... there's not only the technology but also compliance and regulatory requirements et cetera. That's why when the Web3 go[es] to a large-scale enterprise, they really need to consider which level-1 they should go [to], or they build their own.

So now is the time, especially from last year, [when] we see a lot of the enterprise customer[s], they're looking for their own applications obtaining chain. They try to pass that way. Actually, even five or ten years ago, a lot of the enterprise[s], they [have] already tried this. They have the Hyperledger, [and] they have I3 for their own private chain, but now they're moving to the Layer 1. They're looking for these kinds of options.

Berlind: So, you help companies build their own if they want it. And the reason you do that is because some companies who are coming from the traditional IT space — I know we have TradFi as opposed to DeFi. Maybe we should call it, or the traditional... I'm sorry, TradFi stands for traditional finance for those of you who don't even know what that means. And then DeFi is decentralized finance. You have all these sorts of traditional technologies and then the decentralized version of it. Maybe we should call that TradIT and decentralized IT.

But why, with the companies that are coming from a very centralized Web2 way of doing things, they could go and do their own private blockchain? But generally speaking, almost every time we've seen one of those get launched, and I'll go with the Maersk and Tradelens example, it doesn't work out because they're not getting the true benefits of blockchain, which is all about decentralization. So, how do you help them be successful if they want to do a private blockchain?

Dr. Zhang: That's a good question. Actually, sometimes we maybe need to come back a little bit — why they want to leverage the Blockchain or Web3. Because Web3 has dramatically changed something like the ownership of the data and a lot of the enterprise, they're coming to me. So, the first question we should ask or discuss with them is, "How do we introduce more benefits to your business? Why [do] you need to have this Web3 technology in your business?" This is the first question typically, we should discuss it a lot. So, [I'll] give one example. For example, this company is from... they're a big game company that they have a Web2 game, they already have a large user base. Then when they go to the blockchain, why [do] they have this one? So they...

Berlind: What's the answer to that? Do they even know why they want to go to blockchain or are they just like, "Okay, that's the new shiny nickel, and we want to be on that, the same way everybody moved to [the] cloud." Do they understand the benefits?

Dr. Zhang: Yeah, that's a good question. A lot of them, they learn from that, right? Because they see the blockchain through the GameFi, as you say, DeFi, this kind of stuff. They try to think about how can they empower using this technology to... They see the benefits. The benefits are [that they are] very quick to reach the customers and have a better incentive to engage with their users. So that's the decentralization, the benefits for them.

Berlind: But private ledger is not really decentralized, but okay. Let's move on. And to the extent that some companies might want to build their own private blockchain, maybe start there eventually work their way to what we sometimes hear about as Web 2.5 and then Web 3.0, kind of taking baby steps, getting into that fully immersive Web 3.0 way of doing things. What exactly does NodeReal provide? What's the technology that makes it easier for them to do that?

Dr. Zhang: Yeah, I want to use the one example. For example, one of my customers is from one of the largest telecom companies. They have their own private chain builder on the R-3, but now they to want to leverage the public chain because they want to connect with their own private chain to the public chain. How do we want to provide? So we provide the infrastructure service to help them build their own chain.

Berlind: What's the infrastructure though? What exactly do you provide? You provide some sort of cloud-based infrastructure the same way Amazon or Microsoft provides infrastructure that's specially tuned to the provision of a blockchain?

Dr. Zhang: Exactly. That's something like [what] we try to build, it's something like Web3, as a Web3 AWS or Google Cloud, this kind of stuff. We provide in this service, we provide [the] network itself. They can own their network. At the same time, they also need a network access layer, which is like a high-performance IPC layer. And of course, all of these tools make sure their developers can build on top of that. So we provide this kind of one-stop infrastructure [to] make sure they can very easily build their own blockchain and build their application on top of that. So that's what we provide right now.

Berlind: Okay. So now let's talk about that journey from Web2 to Web 2.5 to Web 3 and Web 2.5 is essentially code for, "Hey, I'm in a Web 2.0 world. Some of the stuff that's Web 3.0 is too difficult for our customers to embrace the idea of going out and getting a wallet. So maybe we'll figure out a way the way Starbucks does with Odyssey. Look, we'll let you get NFTs, but it'll show up in your mobile app and you don't have to worry about all of those complexities of getting a wallet and figuring all that out." That's kind of like a Web 2.5 thing. So when you're talking to your customers, how do you help them go through that journey, get to that Web 2.5 stage where it's kind of one foot in the Web2 world, one foot in the Web3 world, but then eventually going fully onto a public chain and doing something more immersive?

Dr. Zhang: Exactly. This is a very, very good question because we really have this kind of customer[s]. They typically heard of a Starbucks, Disney, this kind of case. This is a very easily [understandable] loyalty program to engage with Web2. That's a very easy concept [that] they can understand.

Berlind: So what you're saying, just to stop you there for one second. B2C companies, if you're in a B2C business like a Starbucks or Disney or somebody like that, a really good starting place to dip your toe in the blockchain water is with a loyalty program.

Dr. Zhang: Yeah, exactly. Because the reason for that one is they can connect with the customer or their users more closely, leverage this new cutting-edge technology, and also they can really expand on their customers quite easily. So that's number one to mention. But secondly, they will think about how can they make this one as — like a platform. It's not just a one-time effort. You build one app but cannot expand it to your other customers. So this is something like typically we help them to build a platform, [it] means they can adopt more customers, more like partners into this platform. And for example, people... One example, recently we have a partner in the loyalty program. They build a platform and they want to extend this platform as infrastructure.

And when they go to the infrastructure, we typically talk to them. How can they have their — for example — owning the high-performance access blockchain, and also if their user base is much larger, they may not go to the public blockchain because the gas fee is so expensive, the scalability is not enough. They may want to own their own blockchain. So then we are helping to make this platform more scalable. So that's the journey we typically suggest to them.

Berlind: A B2C platform being used for customer loyalty. We skipped over a really big important piece, which is, what does that look like? I'll lead the witness here. I know we're talking about NFTs. So, would you just talk a little bit about what NFTs are and why they are so well suited to building out a customer loyalty program on a blockchain?

Dr. Zhang: The NFT — something like a fungible token, which means just as a membership, right? Easy ways to understand. That's something like membership. It connect[s] you yourself to the project or the platform. And with that one, you get a lot of benefits from this project in the current stage or the future stage. So that's why I think that's something very important for Web2, they can [be] starting from this because typically they have a very large user base there. So that's something like we think NFT is a good concept there.

Berlind: NFTs are starting to look a little bit like a substitute for something like Frequent Flyer Miles, or I've heard some people refer to NFTs as the new cookie because cookies are so restricted, and people are using ad blocker technologies in their browser to stop cookies. And so right now, it's harder for enterprises to develop that sort of intimate relationship that they really want with their customers. So you do see a lot of companies like Anheuser-Busch or Starbucks using NFTs to reform that connection in some way. But under the hood, because it's a non-fungible token — an NFT — you still need blockchain to support that. Is that right?

Dr. Zhang: Exactly, exactly. Especially, typically, I want to use one example, it's not just build your own NFT and membership. For example, I worked in Singapore. If you [have a mebership with] Singapore Airlines, if you want to, you [could] have this NFT for this one, but how do you consume your loyalty program in the Starbucks? Starbucks has their own NFT and a loyalty program there, through this blockchain, you can very easily connect them together because your NFT and the loyalty points in the blockchain for Singapore Airlines can be consumed very easily or exchanged very easily to the Starbucks loyalty as well. So that's the beauty of this partnership or enterprise-level connection.

Berlind: So long as you've got a whole bunch of enterprises out there doing B2C business and they start to see the value in joining forces in a way that the loyalty points can transfer from, or the NFTs, are somewhat transferable from one to the other. You see that happening in the airline business, just not with NFTs — like JetBlue and American have worked something out where their Frequent Flyer Miles are redeemable on both airlines.

Okay. Well, Dr. Ben Zhang, the COO and co-founder of NodeReal, thank you very much for joining us on the Blockchain Journal podcast.

Dr. Zhang: Yeah, thank you. Thank you for [having] me for this one and as the Web3 and also the Consensus Conference is here, right? We are really looking for the big opportunity in Web3 and also all of this can [be] enterprise adoption right now. [I] really appreciate this interview.

Berlind: Oh, well. Glad to have you. Have a great show.

Dr. Zhang: Thank you.

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