Hyperledger: Giants respond to Blockchain challenge

Blockchains: a new fundamental

It’s the beginning of 2016, and it’s pretty clear now that Blockchains are going to be a big part of the future of IT and Software (at least!). The technological foundations of the information age are weaker than we’d like to admit. The year’s major cybersecurity headlines are only one symptom of this. We’ve built internet systems around everything from digital identity, the Internet of Things and the Domain Name System (DNS), to interbank settlements and securities trading. These technologies are based on legacy tools and architectural frameworks designed by generations that could never have dreamed of instant communication and ubiquitous connectivity. We need to move past plastering over these cracks.

Blockchains replace these frameworks, which are based on centralization, single-source trust and patchwork security measures. The blockchain framework is all about strong cryptographic primitives, scalable security, incentivisation of infrastructure and algorithmic trust. These are the building blocks of better digital infrastructure and a better digital economy. Bitcoin shows one implementation of these new ideals, a digital currency which can (theoretically) be used and transferred as easily as digital content, instantly, without revealing personal data and without friction from intermediaries.

A really important part of this is the power of open source. Open source development is, in essence, the democratization of the new fundamentals. With centralized systems and protected code, it’s always a requirement that we trust the developer without explicit proof that their algorithms and security works as described. Those systems are black boxes. Blockchains’ cryptography, security and scalability is auditable by the public. It’s not just a corporation setting the agenda- diverse interests create products that meet the needs of a wider part of society.


A new challenger appears

That’s why I think we can look forward to the new open-source blockchain project. Officially unveiled on December 17, 2015, Hyperledger is a new collaboration between the Linux Foundation, IBM, Digital Asset Holdings and R3, as well as a number of other key stakeholders from technology and finance. It’s clear that from a platform perspective, these players are pretty late to the game. The Bitcoin ecosystem is already a huge draw for developers, and Ethereum too has had a large head start in attracting development talent. The draw of these large names, as well as a large donated codebase from IBM, R3 and Digital Asset Holdings, will be enough to fund a new large ecosystem of blockchain technologists.

Perhaps the key player in this new announcement is the Linux Foundation, the open source nonprofit behind the Linux kernel. Linux is one of the most successful open source projects in software, now used everywhere from embedded devices to the Android mobile operating system.

It’s not just the weight of these names that attract developers. It’s the incentives teased; the growing budgets of these companies and their customers for blockchain solutions.

The existing R&D efforts of these founding members are being donated to Hyperledger’s cause. IBM’s codebase and intellectual property from its ADEPT project on Ethereum as well as other research. Digital Asset Holdings’ Hyperledger brand, and related code and developer resources. R3’s framework for transactions, designed with its consortium partners to meet the requirements of its global banks and other financial institutions. These set the scene for Hyperledger; a focus on enterprise-specific applications, robustness, security and business support.

Accelerating a blockchain future

Blockchains aren’t a finished product. When we read about the disruptive potential across industries, we’re really looking at projections based on solutions that are currently being researched or are in development. Some of these are really fundamental challenges; how best to tie real-world identities to blockchains? What level of anonymity should we create and expect? How can we scale this blockchain? What’s the best implementation of proof-of-stake?

The Hyperledger collaboration will bring a new wave of innovation to help build out blockchains’ missing components. The enterprise focus will help accelerate existing efforts making practical enterprise applications. Where distributed ledger systems are being built across industries with an enterprise focus, this open source technology stack will provide another gravity centre for collaborative development around open standards. Hyperledger is a powerful message in support of Blockchains’ multi-billion-dollar promise.