A secretive project that would aim to make ethereum more suitable for corporate users is taking shape, according to multiple sources familiar with the project.
Rumored to be called Enterprise Ethereum, the exact nature of the effort remains veiled behind an unusual degree of privacy - especially so for participants who are better known for their work in more transparent open-source communities.
Based on comments from sources, the group - which has the appearance of a broad consortium - intends to remain quiet until it is ready for a forthcoming public launch. Yet, word is already beginning to leak out.
On Thursday, 15th December, a group of startup founders and representatives from some of the world's largest financial institutions reportedly gathered in New York to discuss the common problems they face when building enterprise applications on ethereum.
On site at the undisclosed location appears to have been several bulge bracket banks, including at least one who was in the past involved with R3CEV, a stock exchange and a major software provider, among others.
Independently confirmed attendees include Deloitte blockchain spin-off Nuco, Taiwanese blockchain consortium Amis and ConsenSys, an ethereum platform known for working closely with major tech firms including Red Hat and Microsoft.
Though all the parties involved were discreet, a few additional details have begun to take shape.
ConsenSys chief of staff Jeremy Millar, who previously worked at Goldman Sachs and Barclays, described the secretive project to CoinDesk, stating:
"We are collaborating with a number of large corporate users of ethereum in banking, energy, supply chain, insurance and other industries along with leading enterprise technology vendors and blockchain startups to establish a standard for private ethereum networks."
According to Millar, who joined ConsenSys after founding enterprise blockchain consulting firm Ledger Partners LLP, the work is being done in partnership with multiple Ethereum Foundation members and core contributors.
Emphasis on privacy
Present at the meeting was Alex Liu, founder of blockchain consortium Amis.
A former employee of Qualcomm and Samsung, Liu indicated that the Enterprise Ethereum project would consist of an "enterprise-grade stack" and provide tools for users with demands to ensure the privacy of transactions - a major pain point for institutions today.
But, he added that the technology would leverage the strengths of ethereum's public blockchain.
"The scalability, security, privacy that any enterprise blockchain will want, those are being added or addressed," Liu told CoinDesk, adding:
"But you'll also see interaction with the public chain."
In the days following the Ethereum Enterprise meeting, Nuco co-founder Matthew Spoke confirmed he was in New York City to participate in the event.
So far, the reason for the secrecy appears to be concerns about the competition coming from other sectors of the blockchain industry. But, there's reason to be skeptical about this possible reasoning for the group's launch.
Former IBM blockchain developer Henning Diedrich, who left the company last year to work on his own smart contract language, contends that ethereum's software is already suitable for private blockchains that he tested at IBM.
However, he noted that the relatively nascent state of enterprise products like Hyperledger and R3CEV's Corda platform may be forcing enterprise interest in a more robust offering from ethereum, a comparatively more tested alternative.
Though Diedrich argued that ethereum developers still have room to improve the product, he remains skeptical that a large-scale ethereum consortium is even necessary.
"Sure you can always make it easier," he said. "But the limits are being tackled."
Not so fast
Regardless of who else might be involved, blockchain consortia have already proven their ability to help organizers recruit high-profile participants.
Ethereum users are no different, according to Hudson Jameson, a former lead blockchain researcher at USAA, and now a member of the Ethereum Foundation.
Jameson told CoinDesk that he believes "2017 is going to have a number of consortiums, primarily between banks that are all testing on ethereum or ethereum derivatives."
But, to his knowledge, not a single one of his peers at the Ethereum Foundation was at that secretive meeting in New York City on 15th December.
As for Alex Liu, he's not surprised in the least that little is known about "Ethereum Enterprise", if it exists.
Liu indicated the secrecy is part of the plan, but only for the short term.
"As you'll see, the most exciting thing to come out of it was a series of events over the next month or two months that will become successively more formal."
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