When IBM, one of the largest technology firms in the world, generating nearly $100bn in 2014 revenue, announced it was interested in blockchain technology, the wider world took notice.
IBM revealed it would lend its support to the Open Ledger Project this December, an announcement that was followed by a wave of popular press proclaiming that the initiative would become a new blockchain for business, one perhaps better suited to enterprises than alternatives like bitcoin.
Organized under the umbrella of the Linux Foundation, the Open Ledger Project attracted banks, financial institutions, technology firms, as well as two blockchain startups based in New York, Digital Asset Holdings and R3CEV, the consortium that has attracted 40 major banks.
In interview, the tech giant used similarly striking language when referring to the blockchain, with IBM fellow Jerry Cuomo calling distributed ledger technology "a fundamental way of reimagining core business processes".
"The art of the possible with blockchain is really what brings us to the table," Cuomo told CoinDesk.
Those backing the project hope that the Open Ledger Project will serve as a development library that will be tapped for use by other firms looking to build permissioned ledgers of their own.
"We've done [proofs-of-concept] for customers with almost all of those. And I would say the world is a better place because those things were and are pioneers in the space. But we, and several others in the industry, got a twinkle in our eye looking at this and thinking [whether] this could be used for more than just cryptocurrency."
Gathering of interest
Another key factor is IBM’s past work with the Linux Foundation, the nonprofit organization that supports the open-source Linux operating system.
Cuomo said that last year the two sides reached similar conclusions about bitcoin and the blockchain, and from that general agreement movement toward a shared project began.
"There was a kind of perfect synchronization of thought," he said. "They had already been entertaining proposals in the blockchain area."
The gathering of various interests around the project grows out of an internal effort that has seen the deployment of several dozen employees, including developers and researchers, as part of a single team within IBM.
In the past year, the company has experimented with bitcoin and other blockchain implementations, producing public projects like ADEPT, a network for underpinning a system of interconnected devices developed in partnership with Samsung that drew elements from Ethereum.
Cuomo said other proofs-of-concept developed with IBM customers came out of those efforts.
A formation committee has already begun meeting, Cuomo said, and the next phase involves discussions over the Open Ledger Project’s structure; how each party will contribute and support the initiative; and the creation of subcommittees, including a technical committee on which he will sit.
According to Cuomo, the process for those contributing code to the project has already begun, which will draw from code written by IBM staff as well as code pledged by Digital Asset Holdings. The firm is also contributing the name Hyperledger, from one of two startups it acquired last year.
"Last week we did a call for code, and it’s like, smoke ‘em if you got ‘em, so let’s put the code on the table," said Cuomo.
He added that the process of development coming together has already begun, saying that "you can see folks aren’t waiting" ahead of a more formal process.
Cuomo said that development will take place over a period of years, but expressed hope that by 2017 companies will begin developing POCs and commercial-scale products based on the Open Ledger Project.
"History shows that these things take a while," he remarked, adding:
"The bold will adopt it sooner, rollercoasters and bumps and all, and conservatives will wait for the first movers."