Hyperledger Sawtooth – Intel’s blockchain baby comes of age

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The Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger project gained another 1.0 release this week, when the Hyperledger Sawtooth distributed ledger platform framework reached production-ready status.

As we outlined in our report on Hyperledger late last year, Sawtooth is a modular blockchain platform designed to address the scalability, security, and privacy concerns associated with large and distributed validator populations. For instance, the consensus protocol can be modified on-the-fly as a network grows – including Proof-of-Elapsed-Time as an effective, ‘greener’ alternative to Proof-of-Work; transactions can be processed in parallel; and smart contracts can be used to vote on aspects of on-chain governance. It also supports tailored smart contract architecture – called ‘transaction families’ – for different domains (such as supply chain tracking); and it can integrate with Ethereum development tools like IDEs and Web3.

Sawtooth’s parallelism comes from a design for managing and isolating applications on the blockchain that enforces a complete separation between the core blockchain and the apps. It’s also given the platform broad language support (Go, JavaScript, Python, etc.), and has meant that it’s been able to incorporate Hyperledger Burrow’s Ethereum Virtual Machine functionality via an application called Seth (the name being a contraction of “Sawtooth” and “Ethereum”).

As the Sawtooth project maintainer, Intel’s Dan Middleton, put it in his announcement blog: “We found that a lot of companies had been experimenting with Ethereum but wanted the enterprise features offered in Hyperledger Sawtooth. Seth turned out to be an easy way to enable those companies to bring across their existing business logic and pick up new features like Permissioning and Un-pluggable Consensus.” Those features have actually been present in Sawtooth since last summer, however the Hyperledger team have been focusing effort on ensuring they meet enterprise-grade stability and performance requirements prior to announcing the availability of Sawtooth for production deployments.

Whereas the first Hyperledger project to reach 1.0 (back in July last year), Fabric, was contributed by IBM – and it was arguably Big Blue that followed up with the most noise around its own blockchain ambitions, leading to the launch of the (Hyperledger Fabric- and Composer-powered) IBM Blockchain Platform, which we profiled earlier this month; Sawtooth originated with Intel.

IBM’s still on the roll-call of development muscle for Sawtooth, but this time it’s alongside engineers from Intel (of course), AWS, MS Azure, and T-Mobile (amongst others) – signalling wider cloud vendor interest in seeing this platform come to market. No big surprise to see Microsoft represented here, since its Blockchain on Azure service can deploy Ethereum or Hyperledger Fabric based networks; but AWS’ involvement alongside T-Mobile could indicate a strengthening of support for Sawtooth within Amazon’s Blockchain Partner ecosystem. Amazon already cites T-Mobile’s work with Sawtooth, leveraging a range of AWS storage and compute services, amongst its blockchain use case examples – though AWS itself doesn’t currently market a cloud-based blockchain, its services are often used as blockchain service building blocks.

So, the Sawtooth announcement shows a couple of things: the production-ready face of Hyperledger is no longer owned solely by IBM; Intel’s baby has now come of age. And, as Hyperledger’s Executive Director Brian Behlendorf told me in our podcast interview early in the New Year, “where there is interesting technology coming out of [the Ethereum] community, we’d like to be able to bring it to enterprises […] and the first obvious connection there was the Ethereum Virtual Machine” – enter Sawtooth 1.0. We await news of what the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance will do now…

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