This week saw the announcement that two of the major groups steering the development of enterprise blockchains – the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA), and the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger project – have agreed to become associate members of each other’s organisations in a bid to foster greater inter-ledger interoperability and mutual collaboration to jointly further the cause of open source blockchain adoption in the enterprise.
As we covered in our weekly podcast earlier in the year, the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance has grown rapidly from 30 founding member organisations in 2017 to over 500 now. Its vision is for ‘enterprise Ethereum’ products and services (which address enterprise deployment requirements for blockchain) to evolve alongside ‘public Ethereum’ in a consistent manner. In May this year it published an open source, cross-platform, standards-based technical framework and client specification – in an effort to bring some order to the disparate ‘based-on-Ethereum’ ecosystem of enterprise-focused blockchain start-ups that had hitherto needed to make their own interpretations, and build their own proprietary versions, of Ethereum when developing private permissioned versions of the network for enterprise implementations.
And for its part, Hyperledger now boasts over 250 member organisations (also from a founding core of 30 in 2016). Whilst the EEA’s efforts have been focused on promoting a standards-based specification for enterprise Ethereum for others to follow, Hyperledger’s influence is more direct – operating under the Linux Foundation, it’s able to incubate and launch a spread of open source projects, with each focusing on a particular aspect of blockchain use in the enterprise (from tools and clients, to development frameworks and abstraction layers).
So, both the EEA and Hyperledger have a keen focus on the development of tools and frameworks that help blockchain projects ease into production and become reliable, scalable services nestled in amongst the rest of an organisation’s IT estate. Working together to help the process gather more steam (across both the Ethereum and Hyperledger communities) makes sense, as it’s a tide that’ll lift all boats.
Ultimately, if blockchain proofs-of-concept (of whatever flavour) are stalling, then any help which can be given – to build effective business cases, address technical deployment issues, smooth integration concerns, etc. – will benefit the enterprise blockchain industry as a whole (and move the technology further towards being thought of in less ‘scary new shiny thing’ terms)… which is a good thing, for mainstream adoption.
Enterprise concerns about blockchain solutions’ production-readiness, its scalability, security, integration with more traditional business applications, and interoperability amongst competing ledger formats (across both public and private blockchains) has fuelled much of the interest in the EEA’s work to shape a coherent version of Ethereum for enterprise use cases; and of course, without any public blockchain origins to contend with, Hyperledger has been all about the blockchain for business right from when the first projects entered incubation. This is reflected in the developments in Hyperledger Fabric et al since their production-grade launches – and as the likes of IBM and Oracle build their own enterprise blockchain offerings based upon these tools and frameworks.
But there’s more to this alliance of alliances than simply a shared desired to help bake a bigger enterprise blockchain pie together (over which they’ll be fighting for slices alongside other players such as R3, with its Corda platform looking to pick off non-finserv use case opportunities now).
As more blockchains enter service, it’s inevitable that organisations will need to interact with more than one blockchain network, and integrate their systems with more than one blockchain technology – by virtue of their involvement with multiple ecosystems across their business, quite apart from any fragmentation within a single community. Inter-ledger interoperability is therefore fast becoming another key enterprise requirement for blockchain acceptance, spurring these two consortia to cosy-up and show that they can play nice together for the greater good of their combined customer base.
Hyperledger is already incubating the Quilt tool (contributed by Ripple), to implement its interledger protocol (ILP) for transferring value across different types of distributed – and non-distributed – ledgers and blockchains); and the Burrow modular blockchain client, with a permissioned smart contract interpreter is built – in part – to the specification of the Ethereum Virtual Machine engine (i.e. the runtime environment for smart contracts based on Ethereum). And Hyperledger has for a while been open about its interest in building upon advances from the Ethereum side of the blockchain world (“where there’s interesting technology coming out of [the Etheruem] community, we’d like to be able to bring it to enterprises and help them make sense of it,” as Hyperledger’s Executive Director Brian Behlendorf said in his podcast interview with me at the start of the year).
But this alliance of the alliances represents a much firmer handshake between the organisations charged with stewarding the development of enterprise blockchain across both the Ethereum and Hyperledger stables. A joint blogpost promised things like easier code testing through EEA certification (due early next year), lightweight implementations of EEA specifications through Hyperledger Labs, faster routes to establish interfaces between products from the two camps, and collaboration across various working groups and special interest groups (each looking at particular issues in enterprise blockchain implementation such as identity, architecture, and performance / scalability). It’s an important pledge to move the whole enterprise blockchain industry forward – at a time when reports circulate of stalled pilot projects, and where we’re yet to see much more than a smattering of real world products and services make it to production and general availability.
As the press release declares: think Ethereum and Hyperledger; not Ethereum vs Hyperledger. What will R3 do next…?