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DataStax launches Astra Block - a new service aimed at helping developers more easily develop Web3 applications

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez February 8, 2023
Summary:
DataStax argues that distributed ledgers, or Web3 technologies, essentially result in a lot of event based data that is typically hard to tap into. But event based data is DataStax’s core strategy - and as such as launching Astra Block.

Blockchain digital distributed ledger technology © Chan2545 - shutterstock
(© Chan2545 - shutterstock)

DataStax is expanding its use case of event streaming data, via its Astra Cloud service, into the world of Web3 technologies - where it sees an opportunity to help developers more easily access data in real time from blockchain ledgers. The central premise to Astra Block, the service announced today, is that any change to a ledger is essentially an ‘event’ that could easily be captured via DataStax’s Astra database, which uses Cassandra, to help developers build Web3 applications. 

Web3 has been described as the ‘next phase of the Internet’, where distributed ledger technology provides the potential to decentralize data across the web, providing increased data security, scalability and privacy for users. The reality, however, has been somewhat different, as proponents of the technology have been caught up in money-making schemes that include crypto currencies and NFTs. 

Not to mention the energy consumption required in ensuring that every node in a blockchain system is informed about every transaction in the chain, whenever a change is made, resulting in an exponential increase in data generation. 

However, it’s still early days in the development and there are real benefits in the use of Web3 applications, particularly around securing identity and being able to give provenance of ownership. Simply put, it’s hard to see how this phase of web development will play out - and DataStax sees an opportunity to provide simplified tooling to developers that perhaps are struggling to efficiently get access to data when needed. 

DataStax says that Astra Block is making the “previously daunting task” of cloning the entire blockchain dataset possible with the “click of a button, leveraging the real-time speed, massive scale and zero downtime provided by Cassandra”. 

It adds that the new service allows advanced querying and real-time analytics to be run at sub-second speeds, enabling developers to build new blockchain-based functionalities into their applications. 

For example, developers can build applications with the capability to analyze any transaction from the entire blockchain history, including crypto or NFTs. Astra DB’s CDC and streaming features, DataStax says, ensure that the clone of the chain is updated in real time, as new blocks are mined.

Ed Anuff, DataStax’s Chief Product Officer, explains that what happens in practice for developers currently working with Web3 technologies, is an onerous series of activities. He explains: 

What you do right now, if you're a developer, is you need to firstly operate your own node, which is essentially a server instance. You need at least one of these - that is going and capturing the data from the blockchain as it's being updated. 

Then you need to be able to go and parse that data. Remember, as ‘blockchain’ would imply, these are blocks of data, large blocks of data. But typically, what you're interested in is a specific transaction within that block. So you would need to go and parse that out. And then you need to load it into a database, in a format that was designed for you to be able to query it. And then you've got to continuously update that. 

Those basic things end up being challenging. And so what we've done is we've eliminated the need to do all those steps. You get a constant stream of the data, we operate the blockchain nodes, we're getting the data updates on the blockchain as they're happening. 

We're taking that data and parsing it out in a very efficient way, because as a company that operates the database, we know a lot about how to store that data in the most performant way and most efficient way, so that you as a developer querying that data, you'll get it very, very quickly, with minimal overhead. 

The opportunity

DataStax is currently pitching itself as the ‘data streaming platform of choice for the enterprise’, with its Astra Cloud service being central to that. In a recent conversation with CEO Chet Kapoor, he said: 

It's all about real time. People sometimes get into ‘is it about nanoseconds and microseconds?’. No, it's about real time. Whether it's web apps or whether it's mobile apps, it doesn't matter. It's about apps and it's about doing things in real time. And you cannot do real time without streaming.

And this is central to DataStax’s thinking around Web3, in that it sees the updates to distributed ledgers and the data from blockchains needed to fuel web applications as ‘event based data’ (or streaming data). Anuff builds on this and says:

What it means is that if you want to build an application that's constantly checking the blockchain, to see whether something has happened, which is a very common use case, it’s trivial to do [with Astra Block]. 

You don't have to operate your own infrastructure for that, you just simply go and log into Astra, say that you want to track Ethereum, or a specific NFT, and then you set the conditions to go and say, for example, ‘whenever this changes hands, I want to get an event sent to my application, that I, the developer, will do something with’.  

We abstract all of that out, so that all the hard work of interfacing with the data is done for us.

On DataStax being positioned to take advantage of this, he continues: 

The interesting thing was that we looked at the blockchain ledgers, and the immediate thing that we saw - and it wasn't a unique insight, but certainly we were uniquely poised to be able to take advantage of it - is that these are real time data streams. They are event based data. 

What that meant was that when we looked at how you might use this data, our Cassandra database was uniquely suited for that. And this is something that we actually initially discovered because we had a number of developers and customers coming to us, using our Astra Cloud service. 

The challenge of dealing with this data is that you need to be able to store it, you need to be able to index it so that you can query it and search it - but being able to keep up with the real time updates. Because when you look at the activity on these blockchains, for example, on Ethereum, there's a constant set of updates that’s happening. 

It's a very large data set, it's being updated in a distributed way by applications and transactions happening all around the world. 

And so it was a fairly straight line from that, going and saying, okay, if you're going to build applications on top of this, it would make sense for us to go and take a look at how to go and capture that data as it happens into Astra and provide the tools for people to be able to go and do very powerful queries against this data. 

Anuff says that Astra Block has been under development for a year or so and was created in response to developers telling DataStax that they were using Cassandra to work with their Web3 applications. 

However, Anuff does admit that it’s early days for this area of development, and won’t initially be a huge portion of DataStax’s business - but the aim is to get in early and offer the support to developers that are experimenting and building. He says: 

There's lots of things that are happening, some of them good, some of them bad. But what's been really interesting all along is that it has been the developers that have been building new applications, finding new use cases, and if they do that, it pushes us to find different ways to make this data available. And so that's where Astra Block comes from.

We have some blockchain customers that are doing significant amounts of our platform. I know at least one of them is spending seven figures with us annually. These projects, blockchain applications, do use a significant amount of data. 

Is it going to be a large percentage of our overall business? No, but it has a specific emerging use case that we're able to extend into and we're able to, to accelerate, and add some value for developers. It's going to be a small percentage of our business, but it's a use case that we've seen as being important. 

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