Forkast Talks Tech | Agnostic Code and Cloud Storage: NEO is Accessible to Everyone, While Sharing Your Data With No One


NEO is a cross-platform, code-agnostic blockchain revolutionizing the sector starting with distributed storage. We sit down with Hongfei Da to chat about the technology and where it’s going. 

In any sort enterprise deployment, or even in a software stack, different protocols and standards need to co-exist. One way to ensure this cross-compatibility is through APIs (Application Programming Interfaces), which tie together this heterogenous mixture of code ensuring that one program on one server can talk to a different program on a separate server. It’s why you can share your Instagram photos to Facebook, and how a courier or airline automatically pushes manifest data to border control agencies. 

Ever since research first began on the non-financial use cases of the blockchain, the problem of segmentation loomed large. It’s tough to promote enterprise-scale levels of adoption when silos and segmentation exist. The fear of incompatibility is a massive barrier to adoption; a government, for instance, would hesitate on adopting a system for land recordation that uses Ethereum if the nation’s electronic ID system used HyperLedger or even a proprietary blockchain.  

NEO looks to break through this by being open and agnostic, and it all starts with the code. Through its support of Microsoft’s .NET software framework, NEO isn’t limited to one language, it’s compatible with everything from Python to C#. Furthermore, with the NEO platform, you aren’t necessarily constrained even to one blockchain platform. While atomic swaps — which can move assets from one chain to another — have been around for some time, they are limited to assets. NEO moves beyond this with interoperability: a smart contract written on NEO can call on a counterpart smart contract that exists on Ethereum. One system can talk to another, thus the issue of having multiple blockchains in a software stack has been mitigated. 

In addition to cross-platform interoperability, one of NEO’s other pillars is disrupting the cloud storage industry with its file storage platform called NeoFS. Demoed earlier this year at Consensus, NeoFS is a distributed peer-to-peer data storage service that provides users with full control over their data whilst avoiding single points of failure. It uses smart contracts on the NEO blockchain to allow for the payment of storage services. 

To learn more about NEO’s efforts, we sat down with its founder Hongfei Da, at the company’s headquarters in Shanghai. 

Full Transcript

Sam Reynolds: So a big trend right now in blockchain is being compatible across platforms. One way to do that is with atomic swaps. But with NEO, you’ve got your own way.

Da Hong Fei: Yeah. Atomic swap basically means there are two users. They want to exchange or swap their asset on two different blockchains. The actual asset does not move from one blockchain to another, it’s just the ownership. They swap the different asset across two different blockchains. But the way Neo is working is different. We’re working on a generic crosschain interoperability protocol, where you can move assets from Blockchain A to Blockchain B in an atomic transaction. That means that the destroying of the asset here and the creation of the asset here will be either both be successful or both failed.

Sam Reynolds: Right, but also it’s, I guess, faster and cheaper than the old method of atomic swaps. Is that correct?

Da Hong Fei: Not necessarily faster and cheaper, because you have to go through a hub, at least it will be at the same level of speed and cost and also it’s not just limited to asset transfer. It can be arbitrary, really any operation, for example, smart contract on Blockchain A invoke or call on smart contract on Blockchain B and get the result and return to Blockchain A and do some other following operations.

Sam Reynolds: So NEO is both blockchain agnostic and also code agnostic too. So you guys aren’t tied to one language, you’re tied to any language really. So how does that help your platform? 

Da Hong Fei: We try to support mainstream languages. We are at the first smart contract system to support mainstream languages like C#, Python, and JavaScript. The reason why we did that is because we want to reach the mainstream. There are about 21 million professional developers in the world. Meanwhile there are only about, let me think, around 10 thousand blockchain developers in this industry. So 21 million [versus] 10 thousand? We need to attract those 21 million who are not [currently] developing for blockchain.

Sam Reynolds: Well, that’s actually a good point, because here in China you’ve got Neo, you have TRON, you have a whole ecosystem of people who support or work on blockchain. Generally speaking, do you feel that China has an advantage there, of people who are blockchain-fluent, and also coders, compared to, say, the U.S. or to, you know, the E.U. or elsewhere?

Da Hong Fei: I would China and the U.S. are the two biggest players in this industry. And China is actually trying to catch up. The U.S., and maybe Europe, is still leading the research side. China emphasizes more on the engineering side. But gradually I saw a lot of researchers, professors, academics look into this area and do some very promising research and so, yeah, I would say we are one of the major forces in this industry.

Sam Reynolds: But looking abroad for instance, if you look at new markets, you know, what would be the up-and-coming blockchain development hotspots? Is it Eastern Europe? Is it Southeast Asia? Is it Africa?

Da Hong Fei: I think Vietnam is very interesting. Vietnam is a very interesting place. I’ve never been there, but I heard a lot of stories about how smart the developers are in Vietnam, and there are lots of people interested in blockchain technology.

Sam Reynolds: Moving on to NeoFS. Recently I saw a tweet about how a power outage knocked out Amazon’s cloud services for a large region. It shows, even though it’s on the cloud, that cloud tech as of now is still reliant on those massive hubs. With NeoFS though, you guys propose to move towards a more spoke model with, you know, not big hubs, but rather smaller nodes. So describe, technically speaking, how you guys would work around a power outage or disaster or some kind of massive catastrophe that would knock out an Amazon or Microsoft or whomever?

Da Hong Fei: The conventional cloud architecture is the same way distributed. They have backups, maybe two or three or five backups in different locations. But it’s not that decentralized, and they’re running the same software, administered by the same bunch of people, so somehow they are the so-called single point of failure. If something goes wrong, disaster can happen. But with NeoFS, with those kinds of new blockchain-based distributed storage solutions, it’s fully decentralized. Your files will be divided into very small blocks. They’ll be stored at – you don’t know where it is. It’s somewhere in somebody’s laptop maybe, or even in somebody’s cell phone, but it’s encrypted. You don’t need to worry about your privacy, or your data, your IP. You don’t need to worry about that. 

Sam Reynolds: But you can still segment, geographically, that data. For instance, if you have sensitive data that cannot leave a country or a region, you can ensure that it doesn’t go from, say, the U.S. to Asia, or vice versa.

Da Hong Fei: I don’t think those blockchain-based file storage systems have that feature yet, but

I see no reason why they cannot provide that feature in the future.

Sam Reynolds: So with NeoFS, it’s not the first blockchain storage company. We’ve had other ventures, for instance like StorJ or FileToken. How are you different? How do you guys separate yourselves from other players in the market?

Da Hong Fei: StorJ, I’ve seen the project for years. I don’t know what their current status is. FileCoin is a general solution for distributed storage; they can work for different blockchains. But NeoFS is exclusively designed for new blockchain. So new smart contract can natively use the function provided by NeoFS. So it’s very closely coupled with the new blockchain, right?

Sam Reynolds: TRON, your competitor, purchased BitTorrent for a large sum last year. You guys, at one time, spoke to BitTorrent, then decided to skip it. So how have you evolved past that? How have you still created a great solution for file storage without being reliant on BitTorrent’s tech?

Da Hong Fei: BitTorrent is a peer-to-peer file-sharing software. We are actually not targeting that market. We’re not trying to build a system to let people download videos, movies. That’s not our target audience. Our target audience is actually the DApps – the decentralized applications – that need storage to store their users’ data or whatever data they want to store. We’re talking a different market, so we decided probably BitTorrent is not what we’re looking for. 

Sam Reynolds: So then what is the market for NeoFS? How do you see it being used?

Da Hong Fei: Today, if you want to save something on the blockchain, it’s prohibitively expensive.

Sam Reynolds: Of course, yeah.

Da Hong Fei: But we said for NeoFS, the cost will be lowered maybe a thousand, maybe a few thousand times. So we – I – expect to see those DApps will start to save data on NeoFS instead of on a centralized cloud.