Some businesses leverage the blockchain because their founders believe from day one that decentralizing the world is the key to unlocking humanity’s full potential.
Others just discover that blockchain technology happens to be the best way of solving complex technical problems. Their founders become what you might call “accidental” crypto enthusiasts.
That was certainly the case for the team behind Akash Network, which is defying crypto business stereotypes in many ways as it builds both a decentralized marketplace for infrastructure and a software platform for seamlessly deploying applications on that infrastructure.
An accidental blockchain company
Blockchains and cryptocurrency were the last things on the mind of Akash founder and CTO Adam Bozanich when he set out in the mid-2010s to build what would become Akash Network. At the time, he just wanted to create a platform that would simplify the deployment of multicloud workloads across conventional, hyperscale infrastructures. The goal was to build something akin to Heroku, but that was less expensive and had a smoother learning curve.
Building out the software to power this type of solution was easy enough for Bozanich, who says he started coding as a kid and “just could never stop programming.” But what was missing was an easy means of acquiring the infrastructure for hosting vendor-agnostic, multicloud applications.
“We realized that, frankly, we weren’t the best bizdev people,” Bozanich said. “We didn’t have the capital to go out and build data centers.”
After muddling around in the multicloud market for a little while, a solution dawned: “We realized that there’s all this excess supply of infrastructure out there,” Bozanich explained in reference to the approximately 85 percent of data center capacity that sits unused due to inefficient distribution channels. “So we said, ‘Let’s build a decentralized marketplace that is always up, and that people can join on their own.’”
That’s how Akash ended up putting one foot in the crypto and blockchain ecosystem. It uses a utility token, AKT, to power its decentralized marketplace and ensure that operations remain transparent – so no one can be price-gouged and users always know exactly what they’re getting when they purchase infrastructure through the platform.
How Akash learned to stop worrying and love crypto
Bozanich and his team did not start as “crypto people,” as he puts it. Indeed, he says that “at first, it was difficult for us even to speak to the crypto community because we were product people at heart,” not blockchain enthusiasts.
He added, “There was a lot of friction in those early days” due to the strong feelings that some members of the crypto community had about how Akash should be run or which decentralized technologies it should embrace to build out its platform.
But as Akash’s platform – along with the crypto community in general – has matured over the past five years or so, Akash’s place in the crypto ecosystem stabilized. That’s partly because Akash has become a key partner for other decentralized projects, like CertiK Chain and Interledger.
It’s also partly because the Akash team has grown to include folks who are “crypto-native,” as Bozanich puts it, meaning they have deep experience working with blockchain technology.
Among them is Kelsey Ruiz, the company’s head of communications. Ruiz, who worked at blockchain projects prior to joining Akash, said that she was attracted to Akash because it was a company that embraced decentralized technology, yet was “still very much focused on its product first and foremost.”
“I believe in blockchain and crypto,” Ruiz said, “but I wanted to steer clear of projects that were just shilling coins to get attention. I wanted to join a company with a real product.”
Ruiz added that she appreciates the ways in which “the ethos of the product flows into the ethos of the company” at Akash. She added that, unlike some tech startups, which can’t seem to escape the gravitational pull of the Bay Area, Akash has committed to making its team as distributed as its infrastructure: “We have west coasters, we have midwesterners, we have people in China and Korea and Russia.”
And yet, despite its distributed personnel infrastructure, Akash has managed to sustain a shared culture centered. “Taking care of our personal lives is a priority for team members across the planet,” she said. We never feel uncomfortable making sure we have dinner with our families or prioritize what matters most to us.”
Bozanich, speaking on a Zoom call with a preschooler on his lap and a drumset in the background, concurred.
Decentralizing data centers
To understand why Akash’s platform is so innovative (and no, it’s not just because of the crypto angle), you must first understand how the conventional data center market works.
Traditionally, developers or businesses who want infrastructure to host applications buy it from large, hyperscale infrastructure providers – platforms like Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Microsoft Azure.
That’s good and well if you have very large-scale hosting needs that only a hyperscaler could accommodate. It’s also fine if you’re willing to provision the infrastructure and deploy applications on your own, or rely on a cloud vendor’s proprietary tools for doing so.
But if your infrastructure needs are more nuanced – if you aren’t ready to make a long-term commitment to a massive hyperscaler, or you don’t want to be tied to a particular set of tools or a specific vendor’s ecosystem – the traditional data center market doesn’t work as well for you.
Likewise, if you have infrastructure that you want to rent to developers who can use it via an as-a-Service architecture, the conventional data center market isn’t optimized for you. Reaching buyers is a lot of work unless you have the clout of a hyperscaler.
Akash makes life easier for both sets of stakeholders – businesses that need infrastructure, and hardware or data center providers who have infrastructure to rent. Akash’s decentralized marketplace allows anyone who owns infrastructure – ranging from global infrastructure providers like Equinix Metal, to even individuals with “badass machines” (as Bozanich puts it) like mining rigs who want to rent them out on a part-time basis – to connect with developers and businesses who can put that infrastructure to use.
Just as important, Akash eliminates the need for developers to commit to different tooling or pricing models depending on which infrastructure they use. With Akash, developers can deploy applications by describing them in a simple format similar to Docker Compose files. Akash does the dirty work of deploying those applications across its decentralized infrastructure network.
Bozanich describes Akash as “Airbnb for compute.” Just as Airbnb provides an alternative to traditional hotels, Akash delivers infrastructure services that are better suited for some developers than traditional data centers.
Staying focused on the product — and life
The Akash team’s commitment to living life isn’t stopping them from continuing to build out their platform, even as they also enjoy families, music and sourdough bread (another of Bozanich’s pandemic-inspired pursuits, and one that he admits is a little cliché).
Going forward, the company plans a variety of product enhancements. Chief among them is adding the ability for Akash marketplace users to source GPU infrastructure in addition to standard compute resources – an offering that will position the company to cater even more to developers whose needs aren’t well served by conventional data centers.
Ultimately, Bozanich said, Akash’s goal isn’t to out-compete hyperscale infrastructure providers. Instead, he said, “we want to open up a lot of resources and pricing schemes” that aren’t available from the conventional data center marketplace in order to “complement Amazon” and its likes.
And the Akash team wants to keep having fun as they do this – no matter where team members are located, which pandemic-era challenges they have to work through or what the future of the crypto community holds.
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