Can Bitfury Group replicate its success in enterprise blockchain?
Long a leader in the lucrative bitcoin transaction processing sector, this has been an open question since the startup expanded its mission in a bid to win the trust - and business - of the world's biggest financial firms, governments and institutions. But it's also a question that now has new context, as Bitfury is today making public an enterprise blockchain initiative that has long been in development in the lab.
Revealed exclusively to CoinDesk, Bitfury Group is open-sourcing its first private blockchain framework, though it's one that offers a twist on the established idea. Called Exonum, the software aims to distinguish itself from DLT solutions by enabling users to secure data using the bitcoin blockchain.
As explained by Valery Vavilov, the CEO of Bitfury Group, despite uncertainty surrounding the protocol's technical roadmap, potential clients are actually becoming more aware of bitcoin's strength as the longest-running and most secure blockchain in the world.
Vavilov told CoinDesk:
"What we observe is a lot of companies and institutions becoming more and more comfortable using the bitcoin blockchain. Those monitoring the system know bitcoin has been around for 8-9 years, that it hasn't been hacked and that it is offering security that doesn't exist anywhere else."
Alexander Shevchenko, head of Exonum, further stressed how the notion of adding cryptographic data from private, permissioned blockchains into the public bitcoin blockchain would strengthen the assurances of even trusted parties and networks.
"Anchoring brings security to the solution. Even if all the validators collude and want to go back in time and rewrite an Exonum blockchain, they can't do this," he said.
As evidence of interest, the software is also already in use in Bitfury Group's ongoing projects - including its land title trial in Georgia, as well as an undisclosed insurance effort.
For those who want to take a closer look, the source code for Exonum, written in Rust, is now available on GitHub. It will further be on display during an 11-city tour that begins today in the Netherlands, and that includes stops in Beijing, Boston and San Francisco.
Finding a niche
Still, anchoring the data isn't the only feature of Exonum.
Also touted is the auditability the software provides by enabling developers to create both "full clients", which validate the full history of the system's data, and "light clients" that use this record to verify data.
While that might sound like a slight feature, Shevchenko cited the infamous "Heartbleed" vulnerability, where a code issue in OpenSSL left as many as half a million websites exposed to exploits, as evidence of how Exonum's design could be a practical step in improving internet systems.
As profiled in The New York Times, one of the major issues cited in the aftermath was the length of time it would take for OpenSSL's code to be audited, as well as its lack of regular reviews.
By enabling light clients, Shevchenko contends more nodes can participate in Exonum networks, verifying and auditing data to avoid such issues.
"Each client guarantees correct data storage, and thus overall, it's self-auditable. Everything controls its tiny part, and you get this full audit of the system," he said.
"This is really important. You can build a very strong blockchain system, you can anchor it on the bitcoin system, and if your client is compromised, auditing can help. It closes the full loop of the security of the system."
Cost of use
Still, that's not to say public blockchains are without difficulties.
To this point, Bitfury Group went so far as to address concerns about the rising costs of bitcoin network use, and how they might impact Exonum networks that seek to tether transaction data to bitcoin.
While Bitfury didn't provide specific figures, representatives indicated that it believes this would represent a "low cost", owing to how copies of data are stored on the bitcoin network.
Should a consortium of users want to hash data, for example, they would simply set up a multi-signature wallet and then batch transaction timestamps onto the bitcoin blockchain, using the OP_RETURN feature in bitcoin's code.
As even very small fractions of bitcoin can store additional information, the company argues the costs could be affordable even if the Exonum system was running processing as many as 3,000 transactions per second.
"The only thing we need to have is the bitcoin you need for the transaction fees," Shevchenko said.
But what about users that don't want bitcoin's added security?
Another major feature of Exonum is a new, unnamed consensus algorithm it claims improves on the Byzantine fault-tolerant protocols most often used today in distributed ledger proofs-of-concept. While the company did not disclose many details about the system, it described it as more robust and capable of achieving greater uptime.
Elsewhere, Bitfury Group said Exonum's implementations can support features including multi-signature contracts, time locks and oracles.
However, in interview, Vavilov mostly kept his sights on the biggest picture for how these features will enable what he believes will be an important leap in the use of blockchain technology.
Evoking the classic comparison of private blockchains to intranets, Vavilov framed Exonum as a natural next step in bridging the gap between these systems, and public, open blockchains.
"Years ago when the internet started, a lot of conservative organizations didn't start using internet, they created so-called intranets to become comfortable. After some time, all intranets are connected to internet. We believe this will help build a more secure and scalable system."
Going forward, Bitfury Group said it will seek to update the product ahead of the release of an enterprise version of Exonum in the coming months.
Lightbulb image via Bitfury