‘World Computer’ Project Dfinity Raises $102 Million

August 29, 2018, 11:33 AM UTC
Monica Semergiu

An ambitious blockchain project called Dfinity wants to reinvent computing by replacing large platforms like Amazon Web Services and Salesforce with a cheaper, decentralized alternative. The project, which Dfinity dubs a “world computer,” took a step closer to being a reality this week.

On Wednesday, Dfinity announced it raised $102 million from the prominent venture capitalist firm Andreessen Horowitz, the crytpo fund Polychain Capital and other investors. The new funding, which comes after Dfinity raised $61 million in March, will help build its vision of a blockchain-based “Cloud 3.0.”

While the tech world is awash in blockchain projects, Chris Dixon of Andreessen Horowitz told Fortune that Dfinity is distinct because of the technical prowess of its team. Led by founder Dominic Williams, Dfinity claims to have made a number of breakthroughs related to scaling the blockchain and making it secure.

Such breakthroughs could be instrumental in remaking computing in a way where users no longer need to rely on large monopolistic firms to provide storage and software. Instead, Dfinity’s “world computer” aspires to create millions of nodes that together would serve as a public, low-cost computing resource.

“Decentralized computation networks like DFINITY stand to bring us closer to a world where digital platforms can be constructed from trustless, autonomous, and open source software that is owned and governed by communities of users and developers, rather than companies,” wrote Dixon in a blog post describing the project.

The upshot is companies could replace a jumble of servers, middleware and so on (what engineers call “the stack”) with Dfinity’s blockchain and open source programs built on top of it.

Williams acknowledges that few big companies will be ditching their Microsoft and Amazon accounts for Dfinity’s “world computer” any time soon. Instead, he envisions Dfinity will first get traction in corners of the academic and startup world, and become more mainstream down the road.

Williams anticipates Dfinity will launch a private version of its network later this year in order to let developers test out Dfinity-compatible software services, then open the network to the public at large sometime next year. In May, the project conducted a so-called “airdrop” to deliver $35 million worth of Dfinity digital tokens to early investors to help spur adoption.

If Dfinity takes off, it would challenge not only large tech firms but also Ethereum, an existing protocol that currently dominates the blockchain landscape. Ethereum, which launched in 2015, supports many of the services—including so-called smart contracts—Dfinity wants to offer but has struggled to do so on a large scale.

Andreessen’s Dixon downplayed potential competition between Ethereum and Dfinity, saying the two services will be complimentary. In an interview with Fortune, he praised the energy and developer enthusiasm surrounding Ethereum but said Dfinity will be better suited for large scale projects.

The Dfinity investment is also significant because it is the latest example of Andreessen Horowitz, through its recently created crypto fund, receiving digital tokens in exchange for its capital instead of traditional private shares. The Dfinity tokens represent a form of equity, but are coded in a way that the firm can’t divest them for three years.

Dfinity, which is based in Palo Alto with a foundation in Switzerland, also received investments from SV Angel, Aspect Ventures, Village Global, Multicoin Capital, Scalar Capital, and Amino Capital, and others.