Private blockchains are on the cusp of leaving the laboratory and heading to the real world.
At least, that's according to bold predictions from some of the Linux Foundation-led Hyperledger projects's top technical minds during the second day of CoinDesk's developer conference, Construct 2017.
While today, most private blockchain and ledgers remain experimental (with some onlookers even starting to express skepticism that private blockchains will ever be rolled out), that uncertain state of affairs could be on the verge of change.
During the conference, many key Hyperledger technologists – those representing IBM, Intel, Digital Asset and R3CEV – updated the audience on the intricacies and the status of their contributions to the project.
Some even estimated that the projects may be moving into a more production-ready era – and soon.
Shaul Kfir, Digital Asset's chief technology officer, spoke of the startup's partnerships with big financial firms like ASX, DTCC and SIX.
"They’ve taken the red pill of understanding that something really big is happening," he said.
Kfir went on to note that he thinks the technology is proceeding quickly in terms of adoption, telling attendees:
"We’re continuing to build production solutions as fast as we can. I believe we’ll see them within the next one or two years."
Other speakers shared a similar sentiment, in that the timeline to broader adoption may boil down to as little as two years. Standing in the way is continued R&D – and the expected scrutiny from enterprises – on those projects.
Yet certain developments, notably DTCC's announcement that it aims to put $11tn of worth of assets on a distributed ledger, may ultimately spark a sense of innovative urgency among some of those involved.
R3 associate director Clemens Wan gave a similar estimate for the company’s open-source ledger, Corda. He told attendees that, for Corda, 2017 will be "the year of the pilot", with 2018 predicted to be when R3's distributed ledger hits production scale.
Christopher Ferris, IBM's Open Technology CTO, didn't offer his own long-term predictions, but he said that Fabric's 1.0 architecture is expected to be ready by March of this year.
Given the number of projects represented at the event, it's no surprise that developers expressed interest in testing applications on more than one platform.
It's that sentiment that is promoting an atmosphere of collaboration, according to attendees, including Viktor Nikolenko, SWIFT Integration Manager at IntellectEU Portugal, a financial integration partner.
According to Nikolenko, that cooperative environment is very much in play.
”It’s nice to see that everyone is moving in more or less the same direction to cooperate and not just do it on their own,” he told CoinDesk.
Nikolenko, who’s been working on integrating Fabric, went on to highlight one problem: Many companies are bound by non-disclosure agreements, which in most instances would prohibit the free flow of information between sides that might not otherwise communicate so openly.
"It’s great to have an open source part to this where we can cooperate and bring solutions that will become standards, otherwise we would be fragmented," he explained.
Nikolenko, like those behind the Hyperledger projects, wants to see an open-source ledger layer upon which companies can build proprietary applications, using the Internet as a metaphor.
"You need HTTP and the Internet to do that. It’s the same. We need a way to communicate between all the ledgers and all the distributed systems," he argued.
Public and private, hand-in-hand
Amidst the discussions, another trend emerged: the idea that enterprises could benefit from tapping both private and public blockchains, with each kind of network aligning with certain use cases.
ConsenSys founder Joseph Lubin’s presentation focused on the enterprise applications of ethereum.
During remarks, he went as far as to say:
"It’s my thesis that every company that is building a blockchain will have a use case for public blockchain."
Like Nikolenko, he made comparisons to the Internet.
"Just like it took 10 years for the web to gain traction. It was an Intranet for a while. Five-to-six years will stay like that until we put private systems on the blockchain," he added.
Echoing that sentiment, Intel principal architect Mic Bowman, who is working on the Hyperledger framework known as Sawtooth Lake, remarked that both styles have a role to play.
"We started working on it as dichotomy between private and public blockchains," he noted. "But, we realized not one thing is sufficient for both applications. We have a very different expectation for distribution of authority."
It's this philosophy that he said informed Sawtooth Lake's foundational basis as a plug-and-play framework that allows companies to select their own underlying consensus model, whether it's based along the lines of bitcoin or another model.
Still, as far as interoperability goes, others at the event argued that many Hyperledger participants might be looking too far ahead.
Intel's Dan Middleton said that he thinks it's too early to think about creating bridges between ledgers, for example.
Further experimentation with different open-source implementations is needed, he argued, in a bid to find the use cases in which they might be best utilized.
Image via CoinDesk