March 8, 2017

Why Open Collaboration Is Crucial for Blockchain Tech

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Chris Ferris OSLS
Good governance and a truly open and collaborative environment are crucial for blockchain tech, says Christopher Ferris, CTO of open technology at IBM and member of Hyperledger’s leadership, at Open Source Leadership Summit.

The one-year-old Hyperledger Project has already come a long way in making the innovative blockchain technology used in Bitcoin a viable option for secure business transactions. That was the clear message from Christopher Ferris in his keynote at the Open Source Leadership Summit in February.

Ferris, the CTO of open technology at IBM and member of Hyperledger’s leadership, said Hyperledger and blockchain technology could be enormously successful in private enterprise securing and verifying rapid, high value, and highly private transactions. Additionally, the collaborative open source foundation is nearing release of its production-ready distributed ledger code base, Fabric.

“We have the ability to think about how we might instrument all these different types of [private transactions] and essentially in antagonistic type environment and yet know that the information could be trusted,” Ferris said, “and that everybody actually shares the same copy of information.”

There are a few hurdles to clear first, Ferris said, and the project is still very young. The biggest issue is probably perception; Ferris said Bitcoin was built by anarchists looking to disrupt the banking industry and has had some notorious heists and scandals in its short history. That makes enterprise CEOs and CTOs a touch skittish.

Ferris said that’s why good governance and a truly open and collaborative environment are crucial for blockchain tech, and that’s precisely what Hyperledger is looking to provide. The organization currently has five top-level projects under its umbrella. They are:

  • Sawtooth Lake - A distributed ledger technology written in Python, supporting both permissioned and permissionless deployments.

  • Iroha - A simple, decentralized ledger design for mobile clients.

  • Fabric - A foundation for blockchain applications with a modular architecture that allows components, such as consensus, messaging, identity, and encryption services to be plug-and-play.

  • Cello - Orchestration for delivering blockchain as a service.

  • Blockchain Explorer- A user interface for exploring the state of the ledger.

Fabric is the project closest to a general release; each of these projects is led by a different team and is working to ensure interoperability with the other projects.

“Our goal is obviously to develop and create open source solutions for these technologies,” Ferris said, “and to provide that neutral open governance model to sustain these things. To develop a diverse ecosystem of communities. To educate the public and government and so forth on what this technology is, how it can be applied. To educate ourselves by bringing people together to help us explore different ways that the technology might be used in various industries. Then, again, to promote this notion of a community of communities.”

Another issue the technology has is generally slow throughput; Bitcoin can handle only about seven transactions per second, Ferris said.

“Anybody who's been working on any kind of enterprise systems know that ain't going to cut it for just about anything,” he said. “If you wanted to apply that technology to your ERP system for instance to track all the shipments and invoices and whatnot that go on in your enterprise, it's not going to do it.”

Ferris said Hyperledger, which was started in February 2016, has grown from 30 general members to more than 110 in just a year. Two more premier members have joined in that time -- Airbus and American Express -- and Ferris said there are others in the pipeline. The project is growing rapidly and has a significant amount of momentum because it’s a very useful technology that’s almost perfect for open source, he said.  

“This is a technology that is essentially perfect for open source,” Ferris said. “It's potentially very revolutionary. We don't want to have any one player in the ecosystem that controls all of it. We don't want it to be monetized only by in IBM or somebody like that. We want it to be used universally by multiple parties.

“It requires special skills and it requires a diverse set of special skills. You have to have deep cryptographic capabilities, deep understanding of distributed computing, containerization, databases, database query engines and so forth. There's a whole lot of different disciplines that are required to build this technology effectively and it needed a strong governance model.”

Watch the entire presentation below to learn more:

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