Journey to Become a Solana Validator Week 1

As a well experienced technologist, it’s becoming more and more difficult to ignore the constant news headlines, podcast mentions, and water cooler discussions about cryptocurrency. For this reason, I have spent the last while going down the rabbit hole regarding Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other crypto coins in the blockchain universe. And, over the last five weeks, it’s been almost nothing else as I contemplate the subject of this blog. Along the way, I’ve purchased some Bitcoin, some Eth, and a variety of other coins as I learn more about what each project brings to the table. And, after about five weeks of going deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole, I am no longer a skeptic (many reading this may be shocked to hear me say that I was for a long time). I am very bullish on cryptocurrencies as a whole and by this I mean their utility (please talk to your investment advisor if you want to discuss their ability to be financially beneficial).

Like many things in life, different people prefer different things. Some like blondes; some like brunettes. I have no desire to change your mind if you love a certain blockchain over all others and its associated token more than what I discuss below. Rather, I am here to share with you the journey I’ve taken, no doubt filled with plenty gaps of understanding of various sizes. In this particular subject, I’ve started to prefer Solana. Solana is the fastest blockchain in the world and at the time of this writing, the fastest growing ecosystem in crypto. Where Eth gas fees have cost me over $1,000 in the past month doing only half a dozen transactions (like buying/associating clarkeyyc.eth or transferring some Ethereum to other types of coins), the average cost of a transaction on Solana is $0.00025 meaning those same 6 transactions would have cost just over a tenth of a penny instead of $1,000. If you let that sit with you for a moment, that’s pretty remarkable. That’s literally the same difference as buying a $100,000 car for $0.15.

In this journey and with my technical background, I have begun to settle on the decision of taking a more active part in this blockchain evolution by focusing on becoming a Solana validator. Validators require some seriously impressive and expensive hardware (which I have access to) to process transactions that happen on the blockchain. As one of many, my actions as a validator would participate in consensus with the goal of making Solana the most censorship resistant and highest-performing blockchain network in the world.

For the past 48 hours, I’ve been trying to fully grasp the cost of doing this to see if it is something I want to take on. As a father of three, a business owner, and the administrator of a project I’m really interested in making incredible – Local Green Fees, my free time is significantly slim. Like anything in life, I sincerely believe that great things with great results require great amounts of time, diligence, discipline, and dedication, plus a helpful dose of not getting frustrated easily and the “never give up” gene. Okay, so I have all of that. What else will I need?

My early thoughts on what it looks like will be the minimum cost will be to become a validator.

  • Some seriously impressive computer hardware ($5,000)
    There are many people with serious hardware building skills and/or contacts that can get excellent deals on hardware parts, so please excuse me if this is too high. However, from what I can tell, things like a minimum of 12 cores / 24 thread processors, 128 Gig or more RAM (with a motherboard that actually will support that), and three drives (accounts, ledger, and OS), this beast would play some awesome Fortnight.
  • A minimum of a 300Mbit/s connection; faster is preferred ($150/month)
    Looking at the local phone company, this is roughly $150/month.
  • Increased utility costs for a 24/7, always-on connection (unsure)
    No idea how much this stuff costs. Maybe I’ll remember to mention this in upcoming months as I notice my utility bills going up
  • 100 SOL tokens (@ todays price of $193.50 USD = $19,350 USD)
    K, so here’s where things get monstrously expensive. Over on this helpful site, I notice that validators need to pay approximately one SOL per day to vote (/validate). With the current network rewards around 8% per year, you need 5,000 SOL to break even (meaning the gains you make in SOL offset the SOL you spend to vote as a validator). Yes, you read that correctly. At today’s price, that is $967,500 USD in SOL to break even. Yeah, I have a bit of cash set aside for this fun, but certainly not that much. However, it looks like over on the Solana Foundation’s website that they offer a “baseline” delegation of 25,000 SOL if you meet certain criteria on the Solana Testnet. Basically, start off their main cluster on the Testnet cluster to see if you can make it. This just makes a whole bunch of sense no matter what. Why would I want to try and set up all the required things on their production cluster (Mainnet-beta) without first cutting my teeth on the Testnet? If your hardware and network setup can handle the traffic and heat for a minimum baseline requirement, the foundation will stake SOL with you for as long as you meet their requirements. Lots of new words like “skip rate” and “vote credits” are needed to be understood here, but more on that next time. So, the plan here is to set up and validate on the Testnet for at least 5-10 epochs (2-3 days each = 15-30 days) and then if I can make the jump to Mainnet-beta and I can clarify with the Foundation that I understand their delegation criteria properly, I’ll buy these 100 tokens (~$20k) to meet the self-funding requirement.
  • Hardware wallet ($100)
    Optional but the first step in securing this properly. Eventually, I’d like my hardware to be in a cement block in an untraceable, undisclosed location under biometric retinal scanning if I eventually get lots of stakers; however, for the first test run, I should at least get used to having much of the SOL on a hardware wallet (a wallet without an Internet connection).
  • A website that shows I’m legit, I’m secure, and I know what I’m doing (most other validators have a one-pager).
    I own a web development company, so this one is easy for me.

Things that I possess that are other up-front requirements:

  • A significant background in technology; Linux/command line helps
  • Web2 skills (basic web page programming) to build and host a validator website
  • The dedication to take on a big new challenge and see it through to the end.

So, here is the path which I’m planning on taking:

  1. With my current hardware setup, I think I need about $2k of upgrades (complete). This is the only step that will cost me any money right now. Parts are ordered and they will arrive in the next couple of days.
  2. Install the Solana Command Line Tools, change the node to Testnet, and airdrop myself some tokens (complete). Begin playing around and getting familiar with the whole ecosystem. Since I’m on Testnet, this is free.
  3. Begin to make office space close to the fibre connection to make this bad boy hum. (later this week)
  4. Once my hardware is upgraded, turn my machine into a Testnet Validator. (later this week/weekend/next week depending on how much this challenges me)
  5. Once this is up and running, begin to explore with the Solana Foundation and other friendly Validators conversations to see if I’m on the right track.

If I fall flat after these five steps and this takes hundreds of hours or constant babysitting, I’ll back out and be left with a screaming fast office computer that my son will also, no doubt, use to play games. If these first steps are successful, I  will continue with another blog post and the next bit of my roadmap planned.