• Fri. May 24th, 2024

Socket Supply wants to replace the cloud with peer-to-peer apps

Bynewsmagzines

Apr 11, 2023
Socket Supply wants to replace the cloud with peer-to-peer apps

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Socket Supply Co. is launching Socket Runtime, an open-source runtime that aims to replace cloud datacenters and servers with peer-to-peer apps.

It sounds like something the character Richard Hendriks would tout in HBO’s Silicon Valley show — I just watched its full six seasons. And hopefully this turns out better than Pied Piper, though it seems like Socket Supply is no less ambitious as a startup. It also sounds like the blather around Web3, but it’s not.

Paolo Fragomeni, CEO of Socket Supply Co. and three-time founder, said in an interview with Venturebeat that Socket Runtime lets web developers to build apps for any operating system — desktop and mobile — using their favorite front-end libraries.

The company raised $3.5 million and it has just nine people. And you may be thinking that this is a pretty big task for a startup to tackle. While you may not want to believe another crazy person, you don’t really have to. After two years of work, the company is moving from an alpha test, which was released a few months ago, to a beta test so developers can start creating applications for it.

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In doing so, Socket opens the door for web devs to build peer-to-peer (P2P) apps, eliminating the need for a centralized cloud; servers aren’t required, and it even works when users are offline. Socket Supply wants to make the cloud optional and it wants web developers to bypass the cost and complexity of the cloud entirely. And it’s doing so without creating a new OS or a new programming language.

Until now, developers couldn’t build software for every OS on mobile and desktop without multiple code bases, resources, expertise, and a significant time investment, Fragomeni said.

Socket Supply’s Socket Runtime enables P2P apps.

What’s more, those developers were held captive by a centralized cloud, a necessary evil between products and their users. Socket solves both challenges with a write once, run anywhere runtime with P2P capabilities that eliminates the complexities and staggering costs of a centralized cloud while providing developers with complete autonomy, better security, more privacy, and true decentralization.

“The cost and complexity of the cloud have become unsustainable, yet up until now it’s been the only viable option,” Fragomeni said. “When your company grows, your infrastructure will get more expensive, more complex, and less reliable. P2P is the exact inverse. Imagine not having AWS as your landlord. You’re no longer held hostage by a server you neither own nor control.”

Among small to medium businesses, 53% are now spending $1.2 million annually on cloud computing, up from 38 percent in 2021. Enterprises are spending $12 million or more annually on selected public cloud services, 18% of which is on AWS, 15% on Microsoft Azure, and 7% on Google Cloud Platform, according to a recent study. Amazon in particular is renting out servers at a roughly 30% margin ($18.5 billion on $62.2 billion in revenue).

“If you’re a young startup, scale up, or even a newly public company, everything about today’s cloud infrastructure should cause you concern,” Fragomeni said. “Outside of payroll, cloud costs are the number one cost for any company. And those servers are controlled by a small handful of the largest mega conglomerates in the world. This is not healthy for the future of the web, let alone small and medium businesses (SMBs) trying to build competitive products and solutions.”

Socket not only allows developers to write once, run everywhere, but it’s also the only solution that gives them the option to run truly decentralized — all with just a single code base, he said. It allows developers to ship applications more quickly with reduced costs because they can get started using the same HTML, CSS, or Javascript they’ve already written and run it on Socket to deploy immediately.

Most P2P libraries that exist today weren’t designed with mobile topologies in mind. And unfortunately today, P2P is unreliable and not widely understood, Fragomeni said. Socket solves some of P2P’s biggest technical challenges: Connecting peers (with comprehensive NAT traversal), the ability for all peer types to reliably connect with one another. And ensuring packets are delivered (partition tolerance), the ability for a network to remain stable as peers come in and out.

As of today, Socket Runtime is stable and publicly available on GitHub. For more information, visit .

There is a complementary application performance management product (APM) that can diagnose and remediate issues with production apps.

Origins

The company has been working on the tech for about two years.

Socket Supply was inspired in part by Peter Levine, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz. Levine gave a talk in 2019 about “The End of Cloud Computing.” In that talk, he said that everyone would think he was crazy for suggesting that the cloud might go away. Levine noted how ludicrous it would have been, if 20 years earlier, someone had predicted Sun Microsystems would go away. In fact, Sun is gone.

“If you want to predict the future, subtract something and replace it with something else,” Levine said in the talk, which is embedded above. “About six months ago, I started thinking what would happen if cloud computing goes away. If you subtract something and take it away, and you’ll start to think out of the box.”

Levine wasn’t the only inspiration. Fragomeni has been working on P2P technology for 20 years.

His first company in 2010 was focused on delivering a platform as a service. He has also been invovled in a lot of infrastructure technology, and so he spent a lot of time understanding the cloud.

“The relationship that we have with today is that the landlord-tenant relationship,” he said. “It really inhibited of the web. And that’s something that really motivates us. We want to have a baseline technology that is open source, but also have open infrastructure, like a sort of infrastructure commons,” Fragomeni said.

Fragomeni noted that Levine posited that “everything big, everything popular in technology gets replaced by something else. That’s how that’s how it works. But I think that there’s really interesting market forces driving this. And there’s also like, really interesting technology bottlenecks that are driving those.”

Fragomeni said the company set out to build collaboration tools for developers. He wanted to create local-first tools that had real-time, multiplayer capabilities. Tools that had predictable costs and were highly secure.

But a cloud-based solution meant subsidizing infrastructure costs, and having a middleman between the company’s own users and its customers was a non-starter. The company tried to build on existing solutions. Initially Socket Supply tried to use P2P libraries but we found reliability and scalability issues, as these protocols were designed for desktops and servers.

The company tried Electron, but it was also designed for desktops, and with its aging and difficult to maintain codebase it found it simply couldn’t be reworked for mobile. So Socket Supply ended up building the two foundational pieces, a cross-platform runtime for desktop and mobile with a P2P library for networking.

The company solved the problem of NAT Traversal, which is the ability for all peer types to reliably connect to each other. It also addressed Partition Tolerance, which refers to the ability for a network to remain stable as peers come in and out of the network. Socket Supply’s P2P protocol allows users to communicate directly without any servers, and it works even if people go offline.

Before socket, a web developer would only be able to build websites. Now, using Socket, that same web developer can build an application that runs on MacOS, Windows, Linux, iOS and Android mobile devices. And, that developer doesn’t need to host it in the cloud and pay expensive cloud bills. Web developers can run their own P2P applications.

Is decentralization an idea whose time has come?

Socket Runtime is made for modern apps.
Socket Runtime is made for modern apps.

While many people have talked about decentralization, it is very idealistic and not always practical. Fragomeni said he recognizes that. When he got into P2P tech, he was just 18 and servers were natural bottlenecks, where one server served the computing needs of many users.

It was like the old mainframe computers, which were centralized. The personal computer decentralized that infrastructure, but then networking and the web recentralized it around datacenters and web servers. And middlemen started charging for access.

The way to bypass this is to get client computers talking to each other again, and getting average web developers to create peer-to-peer software, Fragomeni said.

“That’s the really critical thing here — the web,” he said. “I mean, we love the web. There’s more web developers than any other kind of developer. There are more well-known design patterns than any than any other platform. It’s a labor of love. But browsers are good for building websites. They’re actually terrible for building software. That’s why we’ve seen things like Electron and Tory emerge and be really welcomed over the years by web developers. But the browser is not the only way to run web apps.”

Rather than get rid of it all and burn it down, Fragomeni isn’t saying we need a new programming language to replace JavaScript or CSS. Developers can continue to use those. It does so while improving security and code size and performance, he said.

“We take the operating system — which believe it or not is actually built with a huge amount of JavaScript, HTML and CSS. The Windows UI is heavily based on the WebView. It’s basically HTML CSS and JavaScript under the hood. They just take JavaScript, the JavaScript runtime, and then the renderer, and all the core pieces of the browser, and they build their UI with it,” Fragomeni said.

The MacOS and Linux are similar, he said, and Socket Supply leverages that. They components and “smashed all this stuff together into this really little compiler,” he said. You use the tool like a regular web developer and build a website with it.

“You package it up. And then you can deploy it to any app store, even outside of the app stores. And people can install it. And so the the magic here is that you’re really not learning anything new,” he said. “And the operating system is taking responsibility for a lot of that. And so that’s why we’re able to ship these really tiny binaries. We can ship an application that is like 1.5 megabytes.”

The team built a runtime that competes with Electron and Tauri and it does so in a way that is more secure. Socket Runtime fixes the problem of insecurity with those other runtimes. It takes user code, signs it, puts it in a sandbox and gives it true sandboxing.

“You should be able to write once and run anywhere,” he said.

He added, “What do we do when we’re building software these days? We spend thousands and thousands of hours, committed to just solving problems that the cloud has invented, and that really does stop us from innovating.”

The consequences of true P2P

Web developers could bypass the cloud with Socket Runtime.
Web developers could bypass the cloud with Socket Runtime.

If this works, then developers will spend less money on the cloud and more on developing their own features for their applications. They released some of the code during alpha testing and got good feedback on it.

“It is a bit of a monumental undertaking to be able to write a codebase that was less than half the size, maybe a third of the size of the most popular version of this, but at the same time, support all five major platforms,” he said. “It’s a pretty extreme constraint. And we were aiming for creating a codebase that was maintainable, or something that would have a long lifecycle. We wanted this to exist for a long time, and be something that people could audit really easily. They could read it really easily. And those were those were really big constraints. So it was a it was a it was a really tough journey. But here we are.”

As for the relationship to Web3, Fragomeni said, “We are actually providing the first legitimate opportunity for a web developer to create a truly decentralized piece of software. And if you wanted to create something that like a cryptocurrency, or if you wanted to do peer-to-peer transactions, that is possible with this. There is a cool opportunity for the things that are legitimate in that space to have the kind of foundation to really deliver on their promises and have their product come to fruition.”

Fragomeni also thinks that metavese applications, like real-time virtual concerts where ltos of people are interacting at once, would work better in a P2P network.

“P2P provides out of the box is this multiplayer real-time capability,” he said.

What’s it in it for Socket Supply?

“The core value of what we stand for is giving people back their autonomy,” Fragomeni said.

Fragomeni said security is tough with P2P and so there are opportunities for bad actors to compromise the network. So the company focused on making a disruption tolerant network and building security into the protocol.

Fragomeni said his company has just begun talks with big companies to offload their cloud usage. Fragomeni doesn’t think cloud providers like AWS will go away overnight. But he does think seasoned CTOs might think that they can save on their AWS costs with this technology.

“As the next six months go by, that’s where we’ll start really identifying what kind of interesting features people want, or what what sort of things that they it need for to go to production with the apps that they’re building,” he said.

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