What is blockchain infrastructure?

The basic elements of blockchain infrastructure

Nodes and clients

Nodes are the core components of proof of stake infrastructure. A node is a computer that carries out the key functions of the network, such as validating transactions, storing records of the blockchain, or submitting votes on network governance. The software that dictates how these key functions are performed is a client.

  • Participation nodes, which are the basic building blocks of proof of stake networks. They validate transactions and create blocks and, in return for executing this work, earn block rewards. A set amount of value must be locked, or “staked,” to the node for it to become an active participant, or validator, on the network. Only once it is active can a node produce useful work on-chain in exchange for rewards.
  • Read/write nodes, which can be used to verify transactions, obtain information about them (query), and write data such as transfers or smart contract interactions (transactions) to the chain.
  • Sentry nodes, sometimes called proxy nodes, which are nodes that stand between a participation node and the blockchain, allowing the participation node to complete its function while staying private and hidden from the public internet. The participation node only communicates with the blockchain through its sentry nodes — when they are being used. The sentry nodes function to protect the participation node from attacks by creating an extra barrier between the public internet and the participation node. For example, rather than executing a denial-of-service attack on a participation node, an attacker would have to first execute a denial-of-service attack on the adjoining sentry nodes, during which time the validator could spin up a new, un-attacked sentry node and continue operating unharmed.
  • Relay nodes, which serve as hubs for the network’s peer to peer (or node to node) communication layer. They connect to a participation node and maintain connections to many other nodes to reduce transmission time by maintaining open, efficient communication paths.

Clusters

At Coinbase Cloud, we use the term cluster to describe a network-specific node (or a collection of nodes) and its supporting infrastructure, such as load balancing tools, monitoring, and alerting services.

  • Load balancers, which distribute traffic across multiple servers to improve the responsiveness of a node. They ensure no single server bears an inordinate amount of network demand.
  • Failover protection, which ensures a node does not experience extended downtime if the system it runs on goes out of commission. The form that failover protection takes may depend on whether a node is cloud- or hardware-based. Nodes operated by Coinbase Cloud use multi-region failover and are distributed across cloud providers to maintain a strong, decentralized network.
  • Monitoring and alerting services, which ensure that nodes are healthy and participating optimally in the network. For example, monitoring the CPU use of a node shows us whether requests are processed effectively; a spike in CPU usage could be a sign of an attack or error in the code of a protocol update. Uptime is closely monitored to ensure all nodes are reliable, stable, connected to the protocol, and able to access data.
  • Container services, which enable mass actions within a cluster. They allow applications and their packages to be pulled together into a form that can be version controlled. Two primary use cases include maintaining multiple clusters and supporting Blockchain client APIs.

Security infrastructure

Other important, but more technical, aspects of underlying blockchain infrastructure include key management, networking firewalls, and other security considerations.

What a blockchain infrastructure PaaS provider does

Optimize participation: hardware, nodes, and solutions

Just as the ability to buy electricity from the grid removed the need for factories to build and maintain their own adjoining power plants, a blockchain infrastructure PaaS provider such as Coinbase Cloud enables people to participate in blockchain networks without building and maintaining their own hardware and code bases.

Enterprise-grade security and technical support

As a blockchain infrastructure PaaS provider, Coinbase Cloud monitors the health of and performs maintenance on nodes and their supporting infrastructure. Coinbase Cloud provides 24/7 monitoring of customers’ clusters with a cascading flow of on-call engineers and dedicated customer-support specialists. Key metrics are monitored on an ongoing basis to ensure the underlying infrastructure is functioning as well as possible. Customers are promptly informed of issues affecting their nodes.

Community support

Coinbase Cloud is an active member of protocol communities — working closely with protocol teams to support mainnet deployment, but also with other validators to maintain network health. As a result, our efforts benefit our customers and the community as a whole. Coinbase Cloud also operates nodes on all of the protocols we support, lending our teams the hands-on knowledge needed to provide clients with superior service across multiple protocols.

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