Hyperledger Tech Heats Up Ahead of Software Debuts

FEATURE
Michael del Castillo
Mar 28, 2018 at 08:00 UTC  |  Updated  Mar 29, 2018 at 03:26 UTC

Just six minutes.

That's how long Hyperledger executive director Brian Behlendorf had to get former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet up to speed on blockchain. Spurred by a special request from the nation's lawmakers, Behlendorf was one of multiple blockchain experts called to the country to talk about the merits of the technology and the ways in which it could modernize the copper-rich nation's mining supply chain.

But even with such a short amount of time, Behlendorf believes he succeeded.

"She was interested, and she wanted to learn more," he told CoinDesk.

Still, if that sounds like a tough sell, Behlendorf has become fast experienced in the art, having completed a whirlwind tour earlier this year. In addition to the meeting in Chile, he also visited Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum's annual event and Beijing for MIT's enterprise forum on blockchain.

And with that foundation laid, Behlendorf is now turning his attention to what will likely end up being the busiest year yet for the non-profit Linux Foundation-led consortium, which comprises 200 banks, large corporates and startups.

To start, the consortium is preparing to move three more open-source enterprise-grade blockchain platforms into version 1.0 status (currently there are only two platforms that far along), and launch its first-ever enterprise blockchain tool.

Collectively, these launches signify more than just milestones for the developers behind them, but could help lay the foundation for a wide range of applications finally able to conduct enterprise-grade transactions

Behlendorf said:

"The 1.0 is really a signal from the developers that they feel this code is now ready for production use with real digital assets, which is a pretty high bar, much higher than most organizations might put on their own 1.0."

Enterprise ethereum

The first of the blockchain platforms expected to launch is Hyperledger Burrow, which will also be the first Hyperledger platform designed specifically for ethereum.

The codebase is currently in the final stages of development before moving to the Hyperledger Technical Steering Committee for approval, which is expected to be sometime this quarter. Built by blockchain startup Monax, the platform comes with a tailor-made ethereum virtual machine (EVM), deployable in internal enterprise operations, enterprise consortia and in more traditional public blockchains.

While the exact number of people using the platform is unclear, Monax CEO Casey Kuhlman said it will at least be included in the upcoming launch of an "agreements network" designed to create legal contracts.

As part of a larger trend towards blockchain interoperability, Monax was among the earliest Hyperledger projects to see its technology integrated with another solution – in this case, Hyperledger Sawtooth – to execute ethereum smart contracts on the Intel-contributed platform.

Going forward, Kuhlman hopes a similar integration that occurred with Sawtooth will proceed within a project currently underway using IBM-contributed Hyperledger Fabric.

"We are hopeful to continue working closely with the IBM engineers to ensure that Burrow's EVM is suitable for their chaincode system," he said.

Blockchain Facebook

With digital identity emerging as such a hot topic (think the Cambridge Analytica fiasco), many developers will no doubt also be interested in Hyperledger Indy, another platform expected to launch into version 1.0 this year.

Contributed last year by blockchain identity startup Evernym, the tool is designed to give people ownership of their own identity data.

So far, the non-profit Sovrin Foundation is building on the platform, plus distributed ledger consortium R3 is exploring integration with its Corda platform. On top of that, two European power companies are looking into using the technology, and 25 "stewards," including T-Mobile's T-Lab, have joined to operate validator nodes on the decentralized Trust Network.

"The Indy community is active, growing and working on graduating incubation from Hyperledger," said Judd Bagley, the company's senior communications director.

For a mobile device 

Distinct from the other solutions moving into version 1.0 this year, Hyperledger Iroha was built as a mobile-first blockchain.

Contributed by Tokyo-based fintech startup Soramitsu, with support from Hitachi, NTT Data and Colu, the Iroha consensus algorithm was designed specifically to enable blockchain-based solutions on mobile devices that have lower processing power. The platform also supports the creation of a number of crypto assets.

Last April, Iroha announced a partnership with the Central Bank of Cambodia to explore possible use of the technology.

Then, in December, the platform quietly entered the alpha 1.0 stage on Github and, according to Soramitsu co-founder Makoto Takemiya, is now in the final stages of preparing for a full, live launch.

"We are planning to release our version 1.0 final in May," Takemiya said.

The key tool

These series of developments are a notable shift from last year when the lack of enterprise blockchain launches gave naysayers plenty of fuel for criticism.

But this year, starting with the launch of Intel-contributed Hyperledger Sawtooth 1.0 (which has already seen early-stage use by the likes of T-Mobile and Huawei) it seems the groundwork is finally being laid for real enterprise blockchain growth.

This includes IBM's second contribution to Hyperledger, that is also moving into 1.0 status – a tool called Hyperledger Composer. The first tool to move into "live" status, it's a actually combination of multiple developer tools designed to accelerate blockchain application development.

Since being contributed last year, Composer is already being used by a number of enterprises according to a Don Thibeau, offering manager of IBM Blockchain. Though few details about that work are being revealed, software giant SAP announced earlier this year that it was using the technology in conjunction with its internal cloud.

"Through the use of JavaScript and common developer tools, Hyperledger Composer has made blockchain development accessible to a wide ecosystem of existing developers and students," Thibeau said.

And with more and more blockchain platforms and tools moving into 1.0 status, Behlendorf expects a corresponding increase in live applications.

"There's traction behind each of them, there are multiple companies now participating in development, they are maturing at a rate where they're ready for production use," he said, adding:

"And in some cases are already in production use."

Image via Shutterstock

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