Well, here we go again with yet another new technology with a name that doesn’t tell us much about what it is: Hyperledger. Hyperledger is related to Bitcoin, Ethereum, and blockchains… but, what are these things? They sound like science fiction: I have plenty of Bitcoins, so let’s go splurge on a nice evening at the Ethereum. Fortunately, Brian Behlendorf, Executive Director of the Hyperledger Project explains these amazing new technologies in his LinuxCon North America keynote.
Obviously, because this is a Linux and open source website, these things are all related to open source projects. Bitcoin is a distributed peer digital currency and a shared world ledger that records balances. Ethereum takes concepts from Bitcoin and expands them to build a decentralized computing platform that runs smart contracts.
Both use blockchains, and Behlendorf explains what these are. He says, “People have started to focus on underlying technology within Bitcoin, within Ethereum, that sort of thing. That’s something called a blockchain. The blockchain is actually not a dramatically new idea. It’s a decentralized database that has multi-masters. Anybody can write to it. It’s a ledger, and it’s resilient to hostile actors. Somebody can try to corrupt the consensus-forming process of what’s the next entry to write into the ledger, and the rest of the network would be able to recognize that and stop it.”
“This decentralized ledger is something that used to be core to thinking about how we might scale up database systems, and then we figured out to make the central single master kind of model work and scale up and then we forgot about it, until Satoshi. Until Bitcoin reintroduced this idea by helping us realize these different masters could represent different actors, different organizations, different individuals, perhaps even anonymously. Satoshi took this whole series of different ideas, including blockchain and this kind of decentralized database idea, and created a currency out of it, but in doing that he highlighted the potential to come back to this idea of distributed ledgers as this really interesting technology,” he says.
System of Record
What might that be used for? According to Behlendorf, “the distributed ledger that keeps track of that is essentially the system of record. The source of truth in a community of participants. You could use that as a way to build an immediate settlement network for a bank where 20 banks might be writing into this ledger. Such and such traded with such and such, whatever, and then be able to go back and prove that actually all happened in sequence, and not be able to refute that certain things happened as well.”
Where does Hyperledger come in? Hyperledger is a Linux Foundation Collaborative Project, founded to address issues of code provenance, patent rights, standards, and policy. Behlendorf says, “A set of organizations started to place calls to Jim [Zemlin, the Executive Director of the Linux Foundation]. He started to host some conference calls, some face-to-face meetings, and those companies included very familiar names like IBM and Intel. They included some brand new types of companies such as Digital Asset Holdings and R3, and included some companies that had never previously engaged with the Linux Foundation before such as JP Morgan Bank.”
Hyperledger was launched in December 2015 under the framework of the Linux Foundation’s collaborative projects framework. “The first code release happened in February. That code was called Hyperledger Fabric. Hyperledger Fabric is an implementation of this kind of private blockchain model where if you have a set of known named entities, 20 banks, or a government, and a regulatory agency, and NGOs and others who all want simply a shared distributed ledger, and want to be able to layer on top of that a smart contract platform,” says Behlendorf.
Watch Brian Behlendorf’s keynote (below) to learn about this bleeding-edge technology that is bringing together an unlikely cast of participants, including JP Morgan Bank, Airbus, IBM, Intel, and various companies and open source developers all over the globe.
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