The ICP protocol works by combining computing machinery provided by independent data centers around the world to create the "Internet Computer", which will extend the Internet with a new unique form of serverless cloud functionality. This is roughly analogous to how the Internet is created by the IP protocol combining the private networks of ISPs, transit providers and corporations.
The Internet Computer hosts its own governance system, called the "Network Nervous System" (NNS). In order for a data center to provide compute capacity to the Internet Computer network, it must acquire a DcID (Data Center ID) by making an application to the governance system. This is roughly analogous to how you must apply to IANA (the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) to get an ASN (Autonomous System Number) for your BGP routers today.
ICP is a tokenized protocol. Users of the Internet Computer are required to pay "cycles" to install software, run software and store data (the amount of cycles consumed is deterministically derived from the precise instructions executed and quantities of data processed or being stored). Users may obtain cycles in exchange for the network’s utility tokens. These same tokens are paid to the data centers as remuneration. The tokens also enable participation in the governance system.
The value of the utility tokens will be volatile. Since most data centers will incur relatively constant costs proportional to the amount of supporting machinery they operate, and furthermore the value of their machinery must be amortized and so forth, the NNS governance system will periodically adjust the number of tokens that the protocol forwards to data centers as payment so that their remuneration remains predictable (the exchange rate between the utility tokens and cycles is also dynamically modulated in a similar way).
The Internet Computer provides a unique reimagined open platform for software, upon which, for example, hackproof systems can be created. Nonetheless, bounding the cost of using the platform is still important. Therefore, data centers can only connect additional machinery when the protocol's NNS governance system makes a "Request for Capacity" (RCAP). Thus although it is envisioned that the network will eventually encompass many tens of millions of standardized machines ("nodes"), at any one time the network will not contain more nodes than it needs to provide its services at the current level of demand.
The Internet Computer will be launched by a significant number of founding data centers around the world. The number of data centers within geographical and jurisdictional territories will of course be bounded (note some territories will be excluded initially). Currently third party organizations are working with data centers to help them participate, and may even supply financial support in special cases. If you would like to be introduced or to find out more, please contact the DFINITY Foundation using the form below.