If a blockchain is going to be accepted as the global payments monetary network, it must have reliable uptime. Cryptocurrencies have introduced the financial world to decentralized monetary systems that are open-source, trustless, permissionless, censorship-resistant, immutable, and supported by participants worldwide. A prevailing in math we trust ideology emphasizes the idea that computer networks can operate more effectively than centralized traditional systems.
Blockchain’s reputation is pedestaled by its ability to handle such responsibility. However, the industry presents a spectrum of tradeoffs. Whether it's one chain or multiple chains co-existing, network participants must understand the pros and cons of their choices. Empirically, uptime is impacted by which side of the spectrum a chain falls on. Does uptime need to be 100% and is that possible?
Uptime refers to the operational integrity of a computer system, i.e., the percentage of time it properly functions without failures or outages (Cavicchioli 2020). The criticality of this metric in crypto cannot be understated as billions, even trillions of dollars are dependent on the network being sound and fully operational. On-chain monetary networks have global participants, stakeholders, and investors (users) relying on consistent daily uptime. Uptime also refers to the protocol layer. For example, while the Ethereum mainnet operates soundly, an application and its corresponding smart contracts may be compromised, thus shutting down the protocol temporarily or permanently.
Here is a brief historical uptime review for three of the oldest, most experienced, and well-known chains in operation today: Bitcoin, Litecoin, and Ethereum. They are PoW systems and are regarded as secure and decentralized.
Decentralization and security positively correlate to uptime percentage. History and longevity play a significant role as well. First-move advantage has granted these chains’ core development teams the benefit of resolving unforeseen issues early in the space’s grand scheme. BTC, ETH, and LTC have time on their side, bolstering the integrity of the chain going forward. BTC is the oldest, largest chain yet with 99.98% uptime, giving participants confidence in an incredibly low probability of downtime going forward as its uptime approaches 99.99% in 2025 (Cavicchioli 2020). It’s been battle-tested early with nodes participation continuing to achieve all-time highs.
In recent years, newer chains have developed in the hopes of solving the trilemma. PoS chains like Solana and Avalanche promote faster transaction speeds and lower fees but at the cost of having a more concentrated set of validators and nodes. Terra is another example of a chain that introduced a unique feature involving algorithmic stablecoins. Below is a brief history of their uptimes:
To quickly touch on the protocol layer, “as of today, there are a total of 100 DeFi exploits that have occurred, with lost funds amounting to a total of approximately $3.3 billion at the time of these exploits” (CryptoSec, 2022). It’s noted that certain exploits occurred on multiple chains. If a protocol is hacked, exploited, or “rugged” for a majority or all of its treasury or token funds, the project’s loss of liquidity will result in permanent downtime. Even OpenSea, the leading NFT platform, has had system outages and issues where users lost their NFTs (Greig, 2022). These instances can be classified as smart contract or counterparty risk.
In many ways, money is the number one factor in how the world works. Bitcoin was invented because many believe our centralized fiat system is broken; some amusingly argued in 2017 that the USD had a lower uptime than Bitcoin, calculating 98.36% (Thomson, 2020). Therefore, monetary networks are important. In light of recent events, uptime has once again proven to be a foundational theme in the development quest for digital assets. Decent believes in a decentralized, open-source future. This founding principle leads us to develop primarily on Ethereum. As Ethereum moves to PoS, Ethereum’s Beacon Chain has already surpassed 300,000 validators (Redman, 2022). Validators participate in the consensus; more validators means more decentralization. Here are node statistics for the chains we discussed earlier:
Crypto seeks to provide the world with a secure, decentralized, scalable financial base layer. More security and decentralization promote stronger economic security. What about semi crypto sphere concepts like play-to-earn gaming and art projects that require scalability in the form of higher throughput, faster transaction speeds, and lower fees to effectively operate? We know there are participants who value these consumer plays. But the trade-off is clear. Sacrificing decentralization means risking the entire operational state of the network. For money to work decently all over the world for everybody 24/7, it must maintain its uptime.