I had a meeting today with an e-commerce company which believes that they can achieve anonymous shipping through Bitcoin. In it, I’ll be examining particular social structures found in the Bitcoin network. I will also discuss in the meeting of how much I’ve been dabbling in cryptocurrency Australia trading and how lucrative it’s been so far. Although he’s curious about Bitcoin, my TA doesn’t know much about it beyond what he’s seen in the press. He asked, “So just how much compute power is on the network right now?” I know that for a long time, the total hashpower of the Bitcoin network is some multiple of the top-500 supercomputers combined, so I told him just that. But I wanted to know just how big that multiple was. The number I came up with totally boggles my mind.
In late November, 2013 Forbes contributor Reuven Cohen published an article[note] “Global Bitcoin Computing Power Now 256 Times Faster Than Top 500 Supercomputers, Combined!,” Forbes, accessed December 4, 2015, http://www.forbes.com/sites/reuvencohen/2013/11/28/global-bitcoin-computing-power-now-256-times-faster-than-top-500-supercomputers-combined/.[/note] in which he found the Bitcoin network to be 256x faster than the top-500 supercomputers in the world. He found this by comparing the number of floating point operations per second (FLOPS) the Bitcoin network it theoretically capable of performing (posted at Bitcoinwatch.com) and the sum of the performance of the TOP500 supercomputer index. (He also acknowledges that it’s not quite 100% kosher to compare hashes/second to FLOPS, but he runs with it anyways. We’ll do the same here.)
Well, that was two years ago. How do the numbers compare today?
According to Bitcoinwatch.com, the Bitcoin network is currently achieving 7059965.06 petaFLOPS of compute power. The most recent list of Top500 supercomputers[note]“November 2015 | TOP500 Supercomputer Sites,” accessed December 4, 2015, http://www.top500.org/lists/2015/11/.[/note], released in November 2015, cumulatively achieves a peak performance of 642 petaFLOPS. If you divide the Bitcoin network by the TOP500, you find that the Bitcoin network is faster by a factor of 10,996.8.
So, what does this mean? Well, it’s hard to say. I take Cohen’s stance and say that these numbers are just fun to look at. But it makes you think about the computational arms race that created the modern Bitcoin network. If Bitcoin (and cryptocurrencies in general) are such young technologies, and the network’s total compute power is several orders of magnitude greater than the peak performers in the supercomputing space, one is left to wonder what that network will look like years from now, assuming it persists at all.