Hyperledger Just Hyped Up Ethereum
A consortium backed by some of the most centralized companies in the world may have just boosted the adoption one of the world’s most decentralized software platforms.
Trevor Brott was starving. It’d been days since he’d had a decent meal, walking the hard streets of San Francisco’s Tenderloin district.
Brott, a meth addict could go for days without eating (methamphetamine has that effect on some people), but ever since he decided to go cold turkey for a week (mainly because he had run out of money and ways to make it), his body rebelled against him, demanding both food and drugs.
But other than the Glide Memorial Church, which doled out perhaps one meal a day, until it ran out, there just weren’t all that many places Brott knew where to head to for a meal.
To be sure, Brott wasn’t always a meth addict.
He’d graduated top of his class at Mission High School, with a particular talent for math and science and had several college offers.
But after his father left his family, things spiraled downwards for Brott relatively quickly as these things often do.
First, he, his mother and two younger siblings lost the house. As the eldest in the family, Brott fell the hardest as it became his job to now provide for the family.
With little more than a high school diploma in a city where a bachelor’s degree barely gets you an interview, Brott bounced from one menial job to another, working wherever he could.
The mind-numbing meaninglessness of his situation led him to experiment with drugs to take the edge off. Initially, it was just marijuana, but when a friend at work introduced him to crystal meth, things soon spiraled out of control.
Out of work, homeless and disavowed by his own family who felt that he had become a different person altogether, Brott wandered San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, panhandling for money to feed his addiction, but determined to eventually get clean.
So on autumn (what counts as autumn in San Francisco anyway) morning in 2015, when Brott saw a post on a bulletin board at a co-working space in the city’s Mission District, for a Hyperledger education session that promised lunch, he immediately signed up.
That initial contact with Hyperledger, a consortium, which counts backers such as IBM, to bring blockchain applications businesses became a bigger high for Brott than crystal meth.
When he understood the implications of blockchain technology, the Halal Guys meal that Brott had had for that autumn in 2015 wasn’t the only free lunch, it opened Brott to the possibilities of coding for the blockchain.
Brott, who had always demonstrated a penchant for logical structures quickly developed a love for Hyperledger and started attending whatever cryptocurrency and blockchain meetups that were on offer for free throughout the city, free meals notwithstanding.
Before he knew it, Brott was sober and working for IBM, as a Hyperledger advocate, giving out free lunches and teaching strangers the magic of blockchain technology as well as coding with Hyperledger.
Please Ask For Permission
But while Hyperledger uses blockchain technology, it is an altogether different animal from the blockchains that underpin cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum — which are public blockchains.
Hyperledger represents the ultimate oxymoron, a centrally-manageable decentralized database that leverages the immutability of the blockchain, with the traditional tech walled-garden approach.
Because public blockchains are permissionless and transactions are subject to inspection, many companies have been drawn to private blockchains, which allow transactions to be kept private, but still leverage the advantage of a distributed ledger, with its myriad applications.
So when Hyperledger, accepted its first code linking businesses directly to a public blockchain, in this case, Ethereum, it was a big deal.
Known as Hyperledger Besu, the open-source codebase is almost identical to an existing Ethereum-based enterprise solution called Pantheon, developed by Joseph Lubin’s (a co-founder of Ethereum) ConsenSys, which has been running since April this year.
To be sure, the debate over whether Hyperledger was designed to expand in such a way — by adding new codebases, or converge into a more unified offering — was always going to be a contentious issue and stirred up heated debates as to the main objective of Hyperledger itself.
But ultimately, the consortium, which also counts investment banking giant JP Morgan and chipmaker Intel as premier members, voted unanimously in favor of adding the Ethereum codebase.
And while some purists may decry the expansion of Hyperledger Besu as an encroachment on the decentralized company-led ethos of Ethereum — perhaps the market is as yet not ready for true decentralization.
With memories of the DAO (Decentralized Autonomous Organization) hack that led to the fork in Ethereum, still fresh in the community’s mind, perhaps now is the time for mending fences and moving forward with a hybrid approach towards blockchains — which is precisely what Hyperledger Besu represents.
Because Hyperledger Besu was approved by the Hyperledger Technical Steering Committee, the rebranded Ethereum client will receive support training new users, certification of developers, working with high stakes businesses and will be more easily integrated with existing codebases, which may ease the path to greater adoption by enabling companies on competing networks to work together.
More importantly, given the resources available to Hyperledger Besu, more developers, coders, and enthusiasts, including those like Brott who were just out in search of a free lunch, may in return get free training on adopting and using the Ethereum protocol as part of their Hyperledger Besu learning sessions.
With Hyperledger managing the permissioned networks that companies are used to, Hyperledger Besu provides the off-ramp from public blockchains where companies are happy to share specific datasets — provenance, for instance, is one obvious area — the ability to track the origin and source of goods and services — to areas such as sensitive customer data which live better off-chain.
In many ways, the addition of the Ethereum codebase to Hyperledger marries the best of both worlds — private, permissioned blockchains for the parts firms want to keep to themselves melded with public blockchains for data that firms are proud to showcase to the rest of the world.
Among the existing blockchain codebases Hyperledger Besu might be integrated with are Hyperledger Fabric — which was originally developed by IBM, Hyperledger Sawtooth, created by Intel, Hyperledger Caliper, made by Huawei and Hyperledger Grid, developed by Cargill.
Given the size and significance of the developers of these codebases, they have already seen to support significant projects, including IBM Food Trust Network, which was created to allow consumers to track the food supply chain and counts Golden State Foods, Nestle and Wal-Mart as among its corporate users.
Hyperledger Sawtooth has seen use in Salesforce Blockchain, which makes it easier to build networks of companies that share a common record of transactions.
The major break from the other Hyperledger codebases and Hyperledger Besu is that while the current Hyperledger codebase only allows networks of invited companies that already trust each other to participate, streamlining their work processes through the use of a common, distributed ledger, Besu also stretches outwards to allow integration with the Ethereum blockchain — allowing anyone to create their own public, permissionless networks on the main Ethereum blockchain.
Do You Speak My language?
And Hyperledger has made Ethereum even more enterprise-friendly in a big way — by relying on Java.
While Solidity, an object-oriented programming language developed for writing smart contracts, is the primary language for Ethereum, as well as other private blockchains and blockchains that compete with Ethereum, it is a relatively new language and represents another language which developers, programmers and software engineers must learn, using what precious time they already don’t have.
Hyperledger Besu, on the other hand, relies on Java, which has been popular among enterprise developers for decades and is compliant with standards which were first developed by the non-profit Enterprise Ethereum Alliance.
And it’s not just the languages available for building on the Ethereum blockchain, it’s the issue of hiring as well.
While it may be relatively easy to hire a Java programmer, it’s not so straightforward finding one with the programming chops for Solidity.
And unlike many other blockchain codebases, Hyperledger Besu and the Hyperledger suite of blockchain solutions adhere to the Apache 2.0 software license — which means that companies which build on the blockchain infrastructure, or while using any of the open-source tools, still retain full ownership of any intellectual property they create.
Although blockchain solutions have the potential to benefit myriad business applications, companies have thus far been slow to use public blockchains like Ethereum for fear that their proprietary information, counterparties to transactions and their trade data, would be made available to public scrutiny or copied by competitors.
Hyperledger Besu claims to have addressed these privacy concerns with a permissioned system that lets users control who can access a network, as well as the ability to temporarily move some transactions off the public blockchain, which in many ways marries the best of both worlds — companies get to keep what they want private, while still being able to leverage public blockchains, in this case Ethereum, for other data.
Hyperledger Besu’s admission into the Hyperledger suite of blockchain solutions marks a watershed moment and comes on the back of years of effort by the Ethereum and blockchain development community to support more enterprise-driven blockchain solutions.
Speaking to Forbes, Brian Behlendorf, Executive Director at Hyperledger says that the admission of Hyperledger Besu marks a new phase of public blockchain integration with private blockchains,
“Hyperledger’s first goal was just to prove the concept of enterprise blockchain, let’s get some stuff out there that can be deployed into production.”
“And now that those bets are paying off, now that we see a lot of success, over time our mission has to evolve to support the hybrid models.”
“How do we get more efficiency, rather than just being a team of rivals?”
Today, Hyperledger consists of over 250 members representing some of the biggest names in the business from across the globe, including Airbus, Accenture, American Express and Chinese search giant Baidu.
But what’s even more exciting is the vibrancy of the developer community that is crucial to Hyperledger Besu’s long term success and the rise of Ethereum as a preferred enterprise public blockchain solution.
In the four months since Hyperledger Besu’s launch, over 100 updates for the codebase have already been added. And while it’s impossible to know for sure the exact number of projects using Hyperledger because it is open-source software, Behlendorf estimates that between 100 to 200 projects are actively using it.
The move towards embracing enterprises is a step in the right direction, both for the blockchain industry as a whole as well as for Ethereum, currently the world’s second-largest cryptocurrency by market cap.
With the increasing development of Ethereum-based enterprise solutions, Ethereum continues to grow according to an entirely different narrative to that of Bitcoin.
While Bitcoin continues to serve its role as a digital gold equivalent, a store of value and a macro hedge — Ethereum represents a vision of a decentralized “world” computer — where computing power in and of itself becomes a form of currency and therefore value.