Blockchain technology is a list of records which are linked and secured with cryptography. It is “an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way.” Once recorded, the data in any given block cannot be altered without changing all subsequent blocks.
Blockchain was originally created by Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008 to underpin Bitcoin. But while Bitcoin is in the news a lot, it is just one example of blockchain technology. According to Wikipedia, blockchains are suitable for “the recording of events, medical records, and other records management activities, such as identity management, transaction processing, documenting provenance, food traceability or voting.”
The goal of Hyperledger.org is to advance the state of the art of blockchain technology for the enterprise. The Index SF (Feb 20-22, 2018) Community Day will include Hyperledger community discussions covering an introduction to Hyperledger projects, a high-level view of the different projects, what they’re about, why they exist, and the different technical choices that have been made and how they’re different. I reached out to Arnaud Le Hors, Senior Technical Staff Member, Open Web and Blockchain Technologies at IBM, to dig into some of the latest activities around Hyperledger, and find out how enterprises can get more deeply involved in blockchain.
What technologies will people learn at the Hyperledger Open Community Meeting? What background knowledge is needed to participate?
At the Community Day at Index SF, I will try to give people a high-level view of the different Hyperledger open source projects, what they’re about, why they exist, and the different technical choices that have been made.
The Hyperledger Community Day event is meant to be fairly technical, not so much business oriented. Having said that, you certainly don’t have to be an expert in blockchain already. It’s good to know the basics, but I’m still waiting for the day when I don’t have to explain what blockchain is! We will certainly provide basic information to make sure everyone is up to speed. Usually, these days, people have at least some familiarity with the topic.
What we want to do is to give people information about Hyperledger – which is an open source collaborative effort created to advance cross-industry blockchain technologies. Hyperledger is hosted by The Linux Foundation and includes leaders in finance, banking, Internet of Things, supply chains, manufacturing, and more.
People tend to think of Hyperledger as one project when in fact it’s an umbrella organization. It’s a consortium that houses multiple open source projects. I want to give people an update on what the organization is about, what projects people will find within Hyperledger, why we have these different projects to start with, what their goals are, what they are trying to do, and then get deeper into some of them.
As you know, blockchain started from cryptocurrency, primarily Bitcoin, but it’s applicable to such a broad scope of applications that once you step out of the fairly niche market of cryptocurrency you realize it’s applicable to many different industry sectors.
Essentially, this is what blockchain is: a new form of database. It has very specific characteristics that make it applicable to different types of applications. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. So just like you have many different types of databases in the relational database space you can easily come to the conclusion that you’re going to have different types of blockchain databases. Therefore, we have different projects that take into account different types of requirements to address them in different ways.
At the same time, we have an awful lot of cooperation between the projects. It’s a bit of what I like to call “co-petition.” A bit of cooperation mixed with competition at the center. It’s a very healthy environment where developers from the different projects meet each month. We have face-to-face meetings where we talk a lot, we learn from each other. The goal of the consortium is to facilitate cross-pollination and encourage integration between different projects.
We are already seeing this happen. Everybody agrees that it’s better to share what they have in common then having each project make their own version of the same thing. So the goal is eventually as we move forward to have more and more of these libraries that projects can use in different ways.
If people want to get directly involved, they can join the Hyperledger Hackfest. These meetings are held every other month, rotating through different geographical locations. They are completely open and free for anyone to participate in, and so this is a great way to come and find out what’s going on and have direct interaction with the developers.
Let’s say you’re starting to be interested in identity management. There is Hyperledger Indy which addresses this. If you want to learn more, come to these meetings and interact with the people who are actually building Indy. The meetings are traditionally two days, though they have now been extended to three days. The first day is an introduction. And then there are two more days for the core developers to interact with one another. There’s a lot of information that is shared. The status of the projects, roadmaps, and more. And there a lot of ad hoc meetings between the different projects. There’s a lot of information sharing and discussion around collaboration.
For example, one of the demos we will have at the community day at index SF is an integration of an Ethereum virtual machine — which came from Hyperledger Burrow — with Fabric. The goal is to be able to essentially run smart contracts that are written in Solidity (which is the language for smart contracts for Ethereum) on a Fabric network. There was a similar integration done last year between the Sawtooth framework and Borrow where they basically integrated the Ethereum virtual machine of Burrow into Sawtooth. We’re now doing the similar integration with Fabric.
This is a good example of the kind of integration we want to encourage as a consortium.
There’s a massive increase in interest for Hyperledger forecast in 2018. Why is this? Have there been technology changes to make blockchain easier to use by enterprises?
Hyperledger is now in its third year and the word is out that blockchain is bigger than cryptocurrencies. Originally, when you heard about blockchain it was often equated with cryptocurrencies and public networks like Bitcoin that enterprises do not have much interest in. That doesn’t fit their business model very well.
There are some very well-known use cases like Maersk, where a blockchain network is being developed to keep track of shipping containers. It will allow people across the globe to interact with the same blockchain network and keep a single distributed record. Think of all the paperwork related to shipping containers. When something is shipped from one place to another in the world, they say there is something like 300 signatures required involving many different constituencies. When you think of shipping you think of these boats with piles of containers on top, but that’s just one small part of the problem. There are port authorities involved, there are customs, there are insurance companies… So all these people have to interact with an information system to keep track of what’s going on.
A blockchain network provides an immutable record of what’s happening, ensuring that everyone can go and see that it was signed at the right time by the right authority. Maersk is a fairly well-known use case that is a powerful example that people can relate to and say, “Oh, wow, I didn’t know you could do this with blockchain. I can see how I could use this in my own industry.”
Hyperledger is a very fast growing organization. We are close to 200 members now. The Linux Foundation has stated that we the fastest growing organization that they have ever hosted, even compared to some very popular organizations like Node.js and others. Nothing compares to Hyperledger in terms of growth. So that provides a lot of momentum.
Also, it might be a little overwhelming to see all these different projects but, at the same time, the message is clear this is not a one-trick pony. People can come here and work very openly with other members in the industry across a very broad spectrum of projects. There’s a bit of something for everyone here.
Hyperledger Fabric was the first project to come to maturity with the release of Fabric 1.0 earlier in 2017. And now Hyperledger Sawtooth is the second one, they just released their 1.0 release. I think that shows we’re not just talking about little prototypes but actual production-ready type products that should be noticed.
What are the benefits for large enterprises to allocate resources in order to contribute code to Hyperledger projects?
I’ve been doing open source for over 25 years. Enterprises like IBM that have committed so much to open source have discovered that it’s a very good investment. Everyone puts in a little and gets a lot more back.
In terms of Hyperledger, this is a completely open source community, where anybody can come and join. It’s a very democratic process. And if you want to influence the direction of the project, even just focusing on special requirements that you would like the project to address, the best way is to put people to it, and be part of the community and help contribute and drive the project in that direction. So there is a direct benefit to contributing.
And also, because blockchain is becoming so important, it’s a good idea to invest resources to become knowledgeable. There’s no better way to learn than to contribute. You don’t have to be an expert from Day One. When I started, I was not a blockchain expert by any means. But you start humbly and you learn about how to use it and then you find little problems and you try to fix it. This may start with the documentation first, but you try to go through the tutorials, you find errors, you try to improve certain things and slowly you build up. Some people will come with a strong background or interest in a very specific area. Blockchain technologies are fairly complex. Peer-to-peer, cryptography, certificate authorities, and more. So some people come in and contribute to just one area. That’s fine! That works very well, too.
People can come, contribute, learn, and get good at using blockchain in their own enterprise. And then they can help contribute to advance the project overall. It’s a clear win-win.