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Design Considerations

Vanilla Goals

In pursuit of a HAB node, a few high level goals first come to mind. These goals are not necessarily specific to Bitcoin, but are goals which would apply to any HA system.

Known Threat Elimination

In Why? we define the following as "known threats". In particular, the node needs to be designed such that it has the option to NOT be reliant on:

  1. One single computer
  2. One single internet source
  3. One single power source
  4. One single bitcoin code repo
  5. One single bitcoin release
  6. One single physical location
  7. One single supply chain
  8. Etc

Essentially, these are obvious and non-exhaustive single points of failure that running two or more computers in the cluster mitigates. It is a primary goal in designing a HAB Node to remove these single points of failure.

Role Definition

We should also spend a second discussing host roles and how they will affect design. In a basic k8s cluster, there are two types of hosts: Leader ("control plain node" in k8s speak) and Worker ("worker node"). The leader runs the cluster, the workers run all the apps the cluster runs. A leader can also run the apps in the cluster, but a worker can not run the cluster. In an HA cluster, which we will build, the big difference is that there are many Leaders, not just one.

Generally speaking, if host resources are practically unlimited, say if you are running a cluster in GKE, you'd want to separate these two groups. Because we will not be assuming unlimited resources, and because the number of apps and services we will be running won't be commercial scale, we will allow for role overlap.

In terms of design goals, this presents some challenges and considerations. Because leader nodes should be expected to be pulling double duty, we should avoid assigning them to weaker hosts in terms of number of cores and available RAM. However, to improve Bitcoin performance, we also might want to consider not making highly performant hosts into leaders either, so we can reserve those resources for Bitcoin.

Another thing to consider here is that etcd (which runs on Leader hosts) will require a lot of write and re-write to the hard drive. As such, it is less than ideal to apply a Leader to a host with a slower, older, and/or used SSD drive.

Additionally, its required that to run in HA mode, there must be at least 3 Leaders:

  • If you only have 3 hosts, then they will all be Leaders, and none of this matters.
  • If you have more than 3 hosts, there must always be an uneven number of Leaders.

For the Ionico Base Node we decided to employ 1 NUC and 2 Raspberry Pi's to be leaders, and the rest workers. The justification being, we wanted the leadership group to have representation on all hardware types, and to also leave one NUC free for high performance testing as a worker. All our hard drives were new, so we had little worries there, and we have had no related issues with this setup.

With single-points-of-failure and role definitions considered, let's now look at how Bitcoin is peculiar and has at least some other, more difficult realities associated with it which can affect designing for availability.

Bitcoin Specific Goals

As also defined in Why?, we can think of these as ways to mitigate "unknown threats". Here are two Bitcoin specific design considerations that should come fairly easily:

  1. A HAB node should not centralize resources
  2. If a HAB node does not have the Hydra Option, it still has options
  3. A HAB node should not be a pre-packaged end-consumer product

These considerations are important for both security and functionality.

Decentralizing Resources: Hydra Option

In bitcoin parlance centralization is evil, decentralization is good. Though we could build HAB nodes as $10,000 supercomputers which can only work if all the parts operate together as one, it is far better to utilize those resources in ways that are friendly with decentralizing, or splitting up the node. To address this, the node must be composable (or decomposable). As in, it should be trivial for the node operator to slice off a piece of the node where that slice can operate on its own, as its own full node. This serves a few purposes listed in Why?.

No Hydra Option? No problem.

The Hydra Option should always be a priority, however, it may simply not be practical: if you do not have or can not get multiple 2 TB drives, whatever you can get will have to suffice, and you can prune the nodes that will be utilizing lower storage hosts. If this is the case for you, keep notes of which nodes will need to be which, we will revisit this when we look at Hardware, and when we get to Layer 3 - Bitcoin. That said, it should still be a priority of every HAB Node to keep as many full copies of the blockchain as possible.

No pre-packaged HAB Node: Aesthetic Option

Though many excellent companies offer individual Bitcoin nodes as pre-packaged products which can and should be employed in HAB Clusters (consult individual companies whether their hardware can be re-imaged to use modern Linux distros), HAB Clusters themselves should seek to diversify hardware, vendors, and supply chain as much as possible and avoid cluster-level "ready-made" solutions.

Far from a production-line computer, a HAB node should be the highest caliber node that the node operator can muster, and he should take absolute ownership, pride, and mastery in his node at the exclusion of what others believe his node should be.

In our present moment, it seems as though the best way for HAB Nodes to thrive is under a culture of extreme ownership which might manifest itself as such:

  1. The HAB node operator should know how it works, how to build it from scratch, how to take it apart, and how to fix it. And they should be passionate about it with finality. "This is my node..."
  2. A HAB node should be well-designed. It should fit operator needs and resources, it should be carefully scrutinized, secured, organized, and, in the end, closer to being a piece of art than a heap of cables and hodgepodge acrylic boxes with loud fans. The aesthetics of the node matter. Which is why we call this the Aesthetic Option for the purposes of this guide.
  3. As much as this guide may help a node operator set up a HAB node, we would be remiss if all HAB nodes looked exactly like the PoC (indeed they shouldn't, considering the lessons learned). The intention of this guide is to solve a lot of problems standing in the way of getting HAB nodes operational, so that others can focus on solving specific problems that their own needs encounter.

Your Node

The following are questions you should ask yourself, and answer, about your HAB Node before getting started. Literally write down answers to all of these questions:

  1. What can I afford?
  2. How loud can it be?
  3. What will I use for cooling?
  4. How will I organize cabling?
  5. How will I arrange the hosts?
  6. What do I want my node to look like?
  7. How will I organize and provide power?
  8. Where will I keep all my host computers?
  9. What performance goals do I want to hit?
  10. What unused hardware can I incorporate?
  11. What colors do I want to my node to have?
  12. What lights should or should not be visible?
  13. What Single Points of Failure can I tolerate?
  14. How can I turn this node into a piece of art?
  15. How many computers do I want in the node?
  16. How many bitcoin instances do I want to run?
  17. How many copies of the blockchain can I afford?
  18. How much time do I have to work on this project?
  19. What small tweaks can I make which could add up?
  20. What unused hardware should I avoid incorporating?
  21. What Single Points of Failure do I want/need to eliminate?
  22. How will I label, name, or identify the hosts and the node itself?
  23. Of the above questions, which ones are most and least important to me?
  24. Given all my constraints, what ways can I find pride in my node, and how can I lean into them?

For example answers to some of these questions, and ideas about how to pursue them, see the PoC.