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The Hyperledger Project Aims to Advance Blockchain’s Business and Technology Through Collaboration

Announced at the end of last year, the Hyperledger Project has billed itself as a “collaborative effort created to advance blockchain technology by identifying and addressing important features for a cross-industry open standard for distributed ledgers that can transform the way business transactions are conducted globally.”

The project – which has the early backing of IT industry heavyweights that include IBM, Intel, Accenture, Hitachi and Fujitsu as well as a number of major financial services players – is managed by the Linux Foundation, a non-profit trade association founded in 2007, which runs a number of collaborative projects in addition to its original mission of backing the development of the open source Linux operating system.

A delve into the project’s charter provides more detail of its goals, which are to:

  • create an enterprise grade, open source distributed ledger framework and code base, upon which users can build and run robust, industry-specific applications, platforms and hardware systems to support business transactions;
  • create an open source, technical community to benefit the ecosystem of solution providers and users, focused on blockchain and shared ledger use cases that will work across a variety of industry solutions;
  • promote participation of leading members of the ecosystem, including developers, service and solution providers and end users;
  • host the infrastructure for [the project], establishing a neutral home for community infrastructure, meetings, events and collaborative discussions and providing structure around the business and technical governance of [the project].

In order to deliver on these goals – which span both business and technical aspects of blockchains – the project has appointed a Board of Directors with broad business responsibility, and a Technical Steering Committee, which will drive the technical direction.

On the main Board are IBM’s Jerry Cuomo, Intel’s Dirk Hohndel, Accenture’s Dave Treat, Fujitsu’s Yoshinobu Sawano and Hitachi’s Taiki Sakata, as well as representatives of other Premier Members of the project, including Digital Asset Holding’s Blythe Masters, R3CEV’s Todd McDonald, Robert Palatnick from DTCC, Santiago Suarez from JPMorgan Chase, Stefan Teis from Deutsche Borse and Kireeti Reddy from CME Group.

Comprising the initial Technical Steering Committee are IBM’s Chris Ferris, David Voell from JPMorgan Chase, Accenture’s Emmanuel Viale, Fujitsu’s Kei Taniuchi, Mic Bowman from Intel, Pardha Vishnumolakala from Tata Consultancy Services, Richard Brown from R3CEV, Satoshi Oshima from Hitachi, CME’s Stanislav Liberman, Digital Asset’s Tamás Blummer and (also Board member) Stefan Teis from Deutsche Borse.

Along with premier members – with each paying $250,000 in annual dues – a larger group of companies have become regular members, with a mix of financial services players, such as ABN Amro, BNY Mellon, State Street, SWIFT and Wells Fargo; IT vendors, such as Cisco Systems, Red Hat and VMware; and blockchain specialists including Blockchain.info, ConsenSys, Credits, Guardtime and Symbiont.

Given the makeup of the project’s leadership and membership, while it is not building technology specifically for financial services, what will result is most likely to be first tested and deployed in that space, and designed with the performance, scalability and security requirements required for financial transactions.

Although it is still early days in the life and workings of the project, already some members – notably IBM and Digital Asset Holdings – have proposed intellectual property donations.

For its part, IBM is donating the code (nearly 44,000 lines of it) of its Open Blockchain development, which it has open sourced under an Apache license. Included in Open Blockchain is code for: three separate consensus mechanisms, including an IBM development it calls SIEVE; implementing confidentiality and security of transactions; and a smart contract implementation dubbed chaincode. Looking to the future, IBM says that it is now focusing its efforts on contributing to whatever results from the Hyperledger Project, and will use those results to build proprietary offerings on.

Meanwhile, Digital Asset is also contributing code for what it terms an “enterprise ready” blockchain server and a client API – driven by its belief that such code should be “commoditized, collaborated on and serve as the robust backbone on which applications can be developed.” As well as code, Digital Asset also contributed rights to use the Hyperledger name (which it acquired last year from the blockchain startup of the same name).

For its part, R3CEV – which runs a consortia of (currently) 42 banks exploring blockchain approaches – says it plans to contribute code that it develops, and which it has dubbed a “Global Fabric for Finance.”

Code contributions have also been pledged from companies that are not currently members of the Hyperledger Project. These include the payments-focused Ripple, which has open sourced its Rippled C++ distributed ledger technology and its NuDB key/value store; and from Blockstream, which is donating its Elements Bitcoin fork development, allowing blockchain attributes to be customized.

Assuming those involved in the Hyperledger Project can agree on common requirements and technology responses, and manage to make sense of and marry the various code contributions mooted, what should result is a usable base level blockchain implementation that individual companies can experiment with, and potentially even deploy internally or in products.

IT vendors are likely to take this base code and develop proprietary products and offerings. This might include fully supported distributions with functions for ease of deployment and management, such as Red Hat has done with the Linux operating system.

Other vendors might develop specific vertical industry solutions or offer integration tools and services. The promise for all is to create a high quality code base and a community ready to enhance it over time in a cost efficient way, so that those deploying it can concentrate on higher value functionality that will have real business value.

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