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R3: Biggest-Ever Blockchain Trial is Only the Beginning

(@pete_rizzo_) | Published on March 10, 2016 at 13:37 BST


After revealing an impressive string of big bank partnerships toward the end of 2015, blockchain consortium startup R3CEV spent the beginning of this year opening up to the public about its research and development efforts.

First came a test involving next-generation blockchain platform Ethereum in January. However, its biggest show of force came on 3rd March, when it revealed it had conducted a trial that found 40 of its 42 banking partners testing five blockchain technologies in a collaboration distinguished by its size and scope.

While the trial itself was centered on commercial paper trading, a short-term debt security used by large corporates, R3 managing director Tim Grant indicated that the main goal of the test was to emphasize the startup’s own ability to take on a large-scale project.

Grant told CoinDesk:

"The really key part of the trial was less about the commercial paper and more to demonstrate that we could bring so many institutions and ledger technologies together, not just the classic Ethereum implementation, but to be able to [unite] a West Coast startup like Chain with big established companies."

Grant described the trial in similarly ambitious terms, indicating that it sent four technology providers specifications for the test – Chain, IBM, Intel and Eris (which delivered versions of the concept on its platform and Ethereum) – that included design specs for three specific trading scenarios.

"We had [banks] issuing, trading and redeeming commercial paper, and we had every one of those banks do that in the platform," Grant said.

He explained that all banks were encouraged to transact with at least one other bank over the course of the trial, with Grant suggesting that "at least 600 trades" were completed in the simulations. No real funds were exchanged as part of the test.

Grant suggested that two of R3’s partners declined to participate due to what he called a "significant resource requirement".

"It wasn’t something you could turn up and be passive about. You had to bring human resources and tech resources," he said.

Hands-on approach

As for how R3 arrived at the conditions for its test, Grant said tech providers were chosen due to their open-source nature.

Once those involved agreed, he said, timelines for deliverables were kept short in what may be a sign of how adept industry companies are becoming in providing specialized implementations.

"Over the month of February, we were able to get from a point of delivering the specifications to the tech providers and receiving, toward the middle of February, the appropriate code and access to their ledgers," he said.

For the trial, each technology was tested in a "staged way" so that banks involved could evaluate the differences. Each bank operated a node on the distributed ledgers being tested, with R3 managing the network.

"They needed to be hands on. We wanted to have the transparency for our members," he said.

Grant said that every few days during the trial period, a tech provider showcased its work to participants. This process enabled R3 clients to, for the first time, have an operational view of how their underlying technologies differed.

“By the close of the trail, we legitimately did have five ledgers and research on how they worked,” he said. “We were able to subjectively evaluate how they do what they do.”

Following the test, all the banks, including those not present, will share in the group’s findings, Grant said.

Upcoming tests

For R3, Grant said the test succeeded at demonstrating the firm’s ability to work at scale and across multiple versions of the technology, but that it intends to do more in 2016.

Going forward, he said, the company plans to drill down into other areas of focus including distributed ledger interoperability, privacy, identity and scalability, and that the tests were likely to be smaller in scale.

"We fully intend to have a lot of projects with smaller number of banks rather than trying to do 40 banks for all these projects," he said. "It’s better off splitting off into smaller groups."

Grant said R3 is developing opinions on the technology providers it works with as well, and that it may publish its findings to help its clients understand how to compare the various distributed ledger technologies available.

However, he said, R3’s consortium work is just a part of its focus, and that it’s also working on building architecture and products under the direction of chief technology officer and former IBM executive architect Richard Gendal Brown.

Grant concluded:

"This is just the beginning, I think there’s going to be a lot of banks and use cases, a lot of different types of projects."

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that the R3 blockchain trial featured 600, not 60, trade transactions between participants. 

Construction image via Shutterstock


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