Problem: Blockchain Diversity
ago, the world knew just one blockchain: Bitcoin.
forward to the present, however, and the blockchain ecosystem is diverse,
dynamic and burgeoning. Not only are there something like 1,600 different
cryptocurrencies in existence, there is also a multitude of major public
blockchains, from Bitcoin and Ethereum to Corda to Litecoin. Plus, tools like Hyperledger Sawtooth make it relatively easy for anyone to create a new
blockchain from scratch.
respects, blockchain diversity is a good thing. Different blockchains excel at
different things, and being able to choose the blockchain that best fits your
particular needs — or to build an entirely new blockchain — is one of the
factors that is helping to drive the popularity of blockchain technology.
technological diversity also has a downside, which is that it makes
interoperability difficult. Most blockchains were designed to optimize data
storage and security within their own networks. Their designers gave little
thought to the need to share data or other resources with external blockchains.
Blockchain Interoperability Vision
the challenge that Accenture announced it has solved by creating “an
interoperability node that resides, and provides the lines of communication,”
between multiple blockchains.
separate blog post, Accenture added a bit more
technical information about how the solution actually works. Essentially, the interoperability
node is a special node that runs on two or more blockchains at once and
transfers data between those blockchains.
has tested the solution using the Digital Asset, R3 Corda, Hyperledger Fabric
and Quorum blockchains.
This Different From Atomic Swaps?
is hardly the first organization to take note of the blockchain
interoperability problem. As crypto enthusiasts know, other solutions for
achieving interoperability or data exchange between distinct blockchains exist.
Atomic swapping is one example, although it
was designed primarily for exchanging cryptocurrencies between different
blockchains, not for sharing data of all types.
projects, like Cosmos,
have attempted to build cross-blockchain interoperability into their
architecture. Unfortunately, this solution works only with blockchains that are
designed to support their communication protocol.
In its blog post, Accenture seemed to give some
vague acknowledgement to this and other blockchain interoperability efforts,
without calling them out by name. The company suggests, however, that existing
interoperability solutions fall short. One problem, it noted, is that
collaboration between different blockchain projects in the interest of
interoperability “could limit further innovation.” It’s unclear what exactly
that means, but Accenture may be alluding to the fact that having to conform to
a universal data-sharing standard could stifle the fast evolution of a
blockchain project — just like having to follow traffic laws stops you from
getting where you want really fast.
of course, debate whether the benefits of a universal blockchain data-sharing
protocol would outweigh the drawbacks.
also makes the point (and this one seems more compelling) that a true
interoperability solution for exchanging data across blockchains should not
require ongoing messaging between the two blockchains. That was one major
design goal for Accenture’s interoperability nodes.
of Accenture’s solution might note two potential drawbacks. The first is that
the interoperability nodes must be “trusted,” according to Accenture. Without
full technical details on how the solution works, it’s hard to know what
exactly “trusted” means in this context. But the language suggests that each
blockchain that hosts an interoperability node must place special faith in that
requirement would undercut the decentralized, trustless architecture that makes
blockchains so powerful. Normally, you don’t have to trust any particular node
on a blockchain network; as long as you trust the network as a whole, your
blockchain will function reliably. If Accenture’s interoperability nodes
require special trust, they may pose some challenges to blockchain’s core
Accenture mentions that interoperability nodes support only “in-scope”
blockchains and distributed ledgers. Here, again, it’s hard to say precisely
what this means, but it may be a way of saying that the interoperability nodes
work only with supported blockchains. That may be an unavoidable limitation,
but it nonetheless means that Accenture’s solution is less exciting than one
that would manage to work with any blockchain anywhere.
New Enterprise Blockchain Strategy
the above is to say that Accenture’s interoperability nodes aren’t useful. They
hold promise, especially in the context of enterprise blockchain platforms,
where businesses that are using different public or private blockchains will
they also signal Accenture’s interest in producing actual blockchain
technology. That’s a change for the company, which previously seemed to be
focusing only on providing blockchain-related consulting and planning services.
Now, it seems to want to join the likes of IBM and Hyperledger by rolling out
enterprise-focused blockchain technology of its own making.