Behind the Nodes - 2021-03-03
The Chainlink ecosystem is not only populated by numbers and code. Behind the integers, trends, and graphs lie an ever-expanding number of teams that operate Chainlink nodes. These teams comprise experienced individuals, geographically dispersed yet united by the common narrative that is Chainlink.
But who are the teams operating the Chainlink nodes? Who are the people providing valuable data for smart contracts, securing the future of the Chainlink network, and guaranteeing network connectivity?
Let us introduce the second node operator team. Welcome Prophet.
Headquartered in Kiev, Prophet is operated by Alex and Mihai, two close friends and early proponents of blockchain technology, who are very much at the forefront of the rapidly expanding DLT space in Eastern Europe.
- Oracle Name: Prophet.
- Verified: October 11, 2019.
- Home: Kiev, Ukraine.
- Overview: Our mission is to connect smart contracts to the real word data.
- First Chainlink Job Run Details: ETH/USD aggregator contract.
- Company Founded: June 25, 2019.
- Reputation: Visit Prophet on reputation.link
- Recent Read: The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
We began the interview by asking Alex how he first got involved in crypto.
Alex: "I first got involved in crypto in 2017, just before the big Bitcoin price rally. At the time, Bitcoin cost around US$2000. It was also just before the Chainlink ICO. Actually, the Chainlink ICO was probably the reason why I got into crypto. My friend Mihai, who is now my business partner, explained a lot of things back then. In fact, LINK was the very first token I bought. It’s funny to look back, especially now that we’re running our own Chainlink node. I don’t think at the time I could have ever dreamt about this.
Before we started running a Chainlink node, Mihai and I started what was to become, one of the biggest Tezos validators. I think on the back of our reputation within the Tezos community, Johann from Chainlink called us up and asked if we wanted to run a Chainlink node.”
Alex: “Of course, Mihai and I were already very interested in the idea behind Chainlink, so when Johan asked if we wanted to participate, we said yes without even checking what we had to do.”
We continued by asking Alex what were his initial thoughts on Chainlink.
Alex: "I thought that it was an amazing idea and an incredible solution with a clear use case. Lots of people consider setting up a trustless system. But Chainlink's solution is something that makes sense in reality because many businesses like Synthetix and AAVE need trustless oracle networks to achieve their business goals. Sure, these protocols can utilise external data providers, but they need a way to prove that they’re not malicious players in the market… a way to prove that they won’t manipulate prices. So, I think oracle networks are hugely important for these companies. Even for marketing purposes. For example, for Synthetix to be able to tell customers that they're using a trustless network and they don't manipulate prices. That is big.”
Alex: “It was easier at the beginning. It was something like ‘set up node and forget’. But questions began to arise as we continued to work on our Chainlink node. We began spending more time operating our node, especially now with the insane gas prices. To be a Chainlink node operator you basically need to be on duty 24 hours a day.”
Patrick Collins expressed a similar opinion in his interview:
Patrick: “Before we even started this call, I got a text message on my phone (I have it to emergency bypass), and the text tells me there is something wrong, go check it out. So, I’m on 24/7.”
Anyway, back to Alex.
Alex: “I think my family hates my alert system. Because when something is not right with the node, everyone in my house knows it. My alert uses a railroad crossing signal sound, it's very loud and it repeats until I respond.
It takes time to run a node and requires a lot of responsibility. I just can’t leave my laptop at home and go to the bar. Because if something happens….
I always carry my backpack and my laptop. Because you never know what will break, what will go wrong. All it takes sometimes is spiked gas prices, and just like that you are out of Ether!
I went fishing this summer and something corrupted our database. At the time, I thought I knew everything about what could possibly go wrong, but every time there is something new. After you fix the problem, you think about how you could have prevented it, and how you could monitor for similar problems in the future. It’s like a continuous job when you’re trying to improve your infrastructure.”
After discussions with various members of the node operating community, it is becoming increasingly apparent that there is a very real need for specialised monitoring tools that are capable of tracking critical node parameters across multiple node clients, multiple chains and multiple oracle infrastructures. A very simple example would be an alert for when gas balances approach dangerously low levels.
Next we asked Alex to explain the single most nerve-racking moment he’s experienced while working as a Chainlink node operator. As it turns out, it involved a boat!
Alex: “I received an alert that something was not right with the node. Where was I at the time? I was on a boat in the middle of nowhere. Later I discovered it had something to do with the database...all my backup nodes had failed. It had something to do with the maintenance of the cloud service where my database is located. We do have error downloads setup for the database, so on the boat I was even able to retrieve some information.
Our first node got locked on the database, and as the node went down, the second node spun up and tried to get a lock on the database. But the database was down... it has failed. Like I said I was on a boat without my laptop.
It was not easy to repair. I called my friend, my business partner, and we fixed everything, but my business partner is not a technician, so I had to walk him through the fix, step by step.
But the situation taught me that I should really be on duty all the time. You never really sleep.”
Of course, we had to ask… “So, your advice to prospective Chainlink node operators is don’t sleep?”
Alex: “You must be aware of the constant threat that something might happen at any time. Even if you are confident that everything is running well. There is always the fear that something might go wrong at any moment.
It’s not just about keeping your node live, there are other factors to consider. At times, the Chainlink team might ask for your input or help.
For example, a few weeks ago the Chainlink team called us and asked us to change data provider, because the current provider was not responding. There was also an issue with one of our external adapters, it was producing weird values, so they asked us to rebuild the adapter.
So, it's not only about money, it's not only about keeping a node alive, it's also about being reactive to requests from the Chainlink team. You can’t take a few days to answer their requests.
Anyone who wants to become a node operator needs to learn, and then they need to keep learning, and then learn some more. Never stop trying to improve. Right now, we’ve reached a point where it takes only five minutes between receiving a job request and completing the actual job setup. We have a method that is working well for us, and that’s why we have a lot of jobs. Because the time from request to response is very low.”
We then asked Alex what he thought his team's biggest challenges would be in the coming twelve months.
Alex: “I guess integrating OCR. Why is this a challenge for me? We first heard about OCR jobs in September 2020. Six months later and we only have one OCR job. So, our biggest challenge as a team is how can we integrate these jobs faster and more efficiently. At the moment, we don’t have as much experience with OCR jobs as we do with Runlog and Flux Aggregator jobs. Like I said, you have to keep learning.”
The conversation shifted gears as we asked Alex for his thoughts on the future of the oracle space.
Alex: "In the immediate future, I think the oracle space will follow the lead of the Chainlink team very closely. Right now, a lot depends on gas prices. But with the introduction of OCR jobs, gas prices will have less of an impact and node operators will be somewhat freed from the constraints of these external factors. I think at some point, the number of node operators will increase significantly. I’m hoping it will be easy for the average guy, and other validators with reputations on other chains to run a Chainlink node. I hope the network will be more open for others and will move more towards a free market.
By free market, I mean I think it will resemble something more like market.link or reputation.link. A place where everyone can advertise, where they can prove they are a good node operator and where they can sell their node data.
After we’ve moved more towards a free market, the next step will be for Chainlink node operators to customise the Chainlink core code. Currently, there is only one entity working with the Chainlink core code and that is the Chainlink dev team. They are doing a great job, continuously improving things, adding things and changing things. But I think at some point, someone will program alternative solutions and open source them, giving everyone access to run the new open-sourced infrastructure.
I also want to mention expansion onto other chains. For example, my dream is to run a Chainlink network on Tezos. I want Prophet to be like those guys running Chainlink networks on Matic and Binance. I am a true believer in Tezos, and I hope at some point we can run on other networks as well.”
We then asked Alex what use cases for Chainlink oracles he’s particularly excited about, that he doesn’t think receives enough attention.
Alex: “At the moment, I am only excited by one use case. And that is the jobs that our node is currently running. I don’t think about anything else. I think that providing data for DeFi is probably the high end for the Chainlink network.
I’m not sure there is anything bigger than DeFi. DeFi will work on all networks. DeFi is so huge, and DeFi really needs the Chainlink network.
Traditional financial services, they can use whatever data they want. They don’t need to sell something like “we’re getting data from this trustless network” because traditional financial services just don’t need it. But DeFi, yes. DeFi needs trustless and DeFi needs Chainlink.”
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to become a Chainlink node operator?
Alex: “I think my advice would be to always try to learn something new, especially when you do something wrong, you have to think about how to do it better. For example, when we set-up the initial node monitors, I thought it was great. I monitored this, I monitored that. And I thought everything was just fine, but you know, every time some new issue would appear, so I revised the monitoring system.
Our current monitoring solution is very different from the initial one. You learn, you make mistakes, you improve. I advise prospective node operators to try to improve their infrastructure and their solutions. There is always a better solution out there.
One other piece of advice. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Other node operators like Secure Data Links, they went through the same challenges and tests to get their number of jobs. These other node operators have tools, and they have advice. You know it is very easy to ask a question and you will save a lot of time and a lot of effort.
I studied economics at a university in Kiev, Mihai studied international affairs. We didn’t study software engineering. We taught ourselves how to become Chainlink node operators. I do have experience in product management, and creating apps, and I suppose that I knew some software languages at a low level, but we taught ourselves. And look where we are now. So, my advice is to ask questions and learn, learn, learn."
As our time together started to run out, we asked Alex what projects excite him the most.
Alex: “We’ve had a lot of opportunities to run nodes on other networks, because we have a big reputation within the Tezos community. But for the last few years, we've focused on Chainlink and Tezos. The crypto space is massive and there are incredible ideas popping up everywhere. But if you want to nail something, you should devote your time and effort to it rather than splitting between a ton of projects. We are focused on the things we love, the things we recognise, and the things we believe in. Those are the projects that most excite us.”
We concluded the interview by asking Alex to describe his time as a Chainlink node operator in three words.
Alex: “Hmmm, I’ll need time to think about this.”
After a long pause and muffled laughter...
Alex: “Responsibility. Quality. Excitement.”
Prophet’s reputation is displayed on reputation.link through metrics including the node’s uptime, average response time, and job completion ratio. Visit Prophet’s profile on reputation.link to view the real-time and historic performance of the oracle since it was verified.