Part of the allure of the lightning network is the low barrier to entry. Do you have a raspberry pi and some bitcoin? You can run a lightning node. Can you code? You can run a lightning startup.
Most of the lightning companies you’ve heard of today, ours included, started with a few technical people running our own nodes. It was considered ‘reckless’ to use real bitcoin on a node, so we put minimal sats in channels and only founders had access to the nodes. Currently, the largest nodes have over $6M in channel capacity. Businesses need their lightning nodes to be online 24/7, so multiple people usually have access to the nodes in case something goes wrong.
Lightning servers operate in a unique situation where the computer system administrator controls the money. In a standard e-commerce company, Stripe or Square would handle the transactions, finance controls the bank account, and the sys admin would run the servers. Lightning nodes currently require all 3 of these duties to fall on the sys admin. We’ll refer to this as the “triple-hat” problem.
Lightning could technically achieve the goal of running global commerce, but this merging of roles needs to be solved before “real” amounts of money can be run through the network.
When a company moves significant amounts of bitcoin over lightning, the triple-hat model becomes too risky for the business and too stressful for the sys admin. If funds are lost on the node, the sys admins will be under the magnifying glass.
To solve this overlap of duties, it’s helpful to think of a “node” as having three distinct layers.
1. Liquidity: channels to other nodes. “Can I pay?”
2. Logic: routing logic and payment handling. “How do I pay?”
3. Signing: Policies & approval. “Should I pay?”