Coders Renew Efforts to Fork Mining Giant Bitmain Off Siacoin Blockchain

Coders on a smaller cryptocurrency protocol are showing why expansion might not be so easy for Bitmain, a mining giant that's soon to file for an IPO.

AccessTimeIconAug 14, 2018 at 3:00 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 13, 2021 at 8:17 a.m. UTC
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New code is set to be released that would make obsolete the mining hardware designed by chip maker Bitmain for the decentralized storage protocol siacoin.

Revealed in an email obtained by CoinDesk, Obelisk, a startup that aims to offer alternative mining equipment for the protocol, has proposed code would give those running the software the option to exclude Bitmain's ASIC miners by changing the rules so the machines are no longer compatible.

"This will give the sia community the ability to fork and could invalidate all non-Obelisk siacoin ASIC miners on the forked chain," the company writes.

The news is notable as it showcases how cryptocurrency communities are responding to the expanding business interests of Bitmain, the China-based mining giant that CoinDesk revealed last week is seeking to raise one of the largest-ever initial public offerings (IPOs).

As detailed in investor documents, part of Bitmain's pitch is the extensibility of its expertise and acumen in designing hardware for bitcoin to other protocols, including siacoin. Founded as a producer of hardware for bitcoin exclusively, Bitmain now supports the alternative cryptocurrencies bitcoin cash, litecoin, dash and ether.

Still, while siacoin, valued at $170 million, is the smallest addition to the company's portfolio, it's also proving one of the most problematic due to the fact that users aren't keen on the idea they would effectively need to purchase Bitmain's products, or similarly powerful equivalents, in order to secure the protocol and compete for its rewards.

Of note also are the credentials of those backing opposition movements that share this sentiment.

Led by siacoin core developer David Vorick, Obelisk is a community-funded ASIC manufacturer that was beaten to market by Bitmain — an event that caused conflict within the siacoin community. Indeed, Obelisk's code was designed with the ability to remove competing ASICs from the network, however, it wasn't activated due to the fear that it could result in a blockchain split.

That said, with the specter of larger corporate interests on the horizon, grassroots sentiment appears to be shifting, at least according to Vorick.

"As of today, all Nebulous (the company employing sia's core developers) and Obelisk employees are supportive of a fork," the email concludes.

The code will be available in "the coming weeks," according to the message. Plus, the mining hardware is also "almost complete" and the company "expect[s] to begin shipping units this week."

Should siacoin be successful it wouldn't be alone in its efforts to curtail Bitmain's expansion. One of the world's largest cryptocurrencies, the privacy-oriented monero, implemented code to remove Bitmain ASICs earlier this year.

For its part, Obelisk is seeking to position itself as a more developer-friendly alternative to Bitmain, in that it could allow developers to enhance the security of their blockchains without worrying about the motivations of hardware makers.

As detailed by CoinDesk, Obelisk intends to provide ASICs for a wider array of cryptocurrencies – to be built in secret and later released for use by members of those cryptocurrency communities.

Read the full email below: 

The Plan

Dear Obelisk Customers,

Production is progressing, firmware is almost complete, and we expect to begin shipping units this week. We now have approval from our team, board, and counsel to share our plan.

First, we will compensate Batch 1 customers with expected mining revenue. Since we missed the estimated shipment date for Batch 1, we will compensate all Batch 1 customers with the mining revenue that you would have received between June 30 and the day your order ships. As of today, this is approximately $90 for each SC1 unit and $250 for each DCR1 unit. If we miss the estimated shipment dates for Batches 2-5, this policy will also apply.

We will begin sending out this compensation to customers sometime after Batch 5 ships. Obelisk will calculate your expected mining revenue based on a hashrate of 800 GH/s for SC1 and 1500 GH/s for DCR1. Compensation will be in USD, and will assume that you exchanged your mined coins for USD on a daily basis and that your electricity cost is $0.

In the coming weeks, we will put together a more complete guide to receiving this compensation and publish our official calculations so that they can be reviewed by the community. Depending on Obelisk's financial position after delivering Batch 5, it may take several months or more to compensate all customers.

Second, we will release the SC1 alternative Blake2b algorithm in the coming weeks. This will give the Sia community the ability to fork and could invalidate all non-Obelisk Siacoin ASIC miners on the forked chain.

The Sia core developers are currently considering community member FaustianAGI's proposal and will soon be issuing an official response. As of today, all Nebulous (the company employing Sia's core developers) and Obelisk employees are supportive of a fork.

There are still many details to solidify, but we pledge to provide additional information in the coming weeks. We are working tirelessly to deliver your orders, and will continue to update you with our progress.


– Team Obelisk

David Vorick image via CoinDesk archives 


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