Surviving Blockchain’s Cambrian explosion inside Hyperledger’s big temple

Mutual assistance: firm support by Igor Kisselev via Shutterstock
Mutual assistance: firm support by Igor Kisselev via Shutterstock

Eyebrows were raised when the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance and Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger become associate members of each other’s blockchain organisations in October.

With hundreds of companies on each other’s membership lists and a healthy and growing roster of projects these blockchains showed signs of building into sizeable, opposable, forces. Could parity be maintained or would one dominate in a way that could fragment the public blockchain field at its crucial fledgling stage with customers and tech firms forced to place bets on uncertain futures?

Hyperledger executive director Brian Belendorf told Devclass how it’s hoped these ambassadorial postings could help further the adoption of blockchain in business.

That means ensuring developers can code for one hyperledger network and – in theory – have that same software run on another network or on different providers. Also, to mix-and-match features rather than lock developers, and their employers, into one blockchain architecture regardless of whether it had the best fabric, permissioning, identity system or tools.

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Ultimately, all boats could be floated in this sea of shared ideas, innovation and portability.

“It didn’t make sense to talk just about [Hyperledger] Fabric,” Belendorf said. “It [Fabric] is the big end of the temple – we needed room for other projects in there.”

“As a bridge – that made sense, to work together where there’s interesting activity that might have relevance to the enterprise.”

This anti not-invented-here thinking predated October. Hyperledger in 2017 launched Burrow – an Apache-licensed implementation of the Ethereum Virtual Machine bytecode interpreter – while, earlier in 2018, Hyperledger’s Sawtooth project added support for EVM, bringing support for smart contracts developed for Ethereum MainNet to Sawtooth-based networks.

What happens next? Should we anticipate similar collaboration between HyperLedger and other projects? Belendorf won’t publicaly prescribe a roadmap or a hit list.

“We are trying to keep tabs on what’s going on and will relay that back to the community,” Belendorf told us of the Ethereum cosying up. “Like most agreements between consortia, it’s a set of ideals and what’s possible – and [let’s] see what happens.”

“I’m less like a Steve Jobs and more like a weather man in this community – I don’t get to dictate things.”

Neither does Belendorf have a hit list of other blockchain projects that could follow the Hyperledger-Ethereum model. The overall goal is that as Hyperledger’s 10 projects become componentised, other open-source software would begin to employ them.

“If there’s a message I can send out to other projects, it’s that as we componentise other parts of HyperLedger they can use that too.”

“I would hope that for the vast majority they would show up at our party,” he told us. “We have chat, events… they can just show up. Hopefully they feel if they have questions, they can get them answered and feel like they can become part of the community.”

The dynamic of all software projects – open and closed source – is for a pattern of winners, also-rans and losers to emerge. Typically, they are defined by numbers of customers, adopters, participants and/or money they make. When it comes to the losers, those in open-source, unlike in proprietary, tend to live on in limbo rather than close.

Hyperledger, three years old, now has more than 260 members, 789 contributors, and 65,000 commits. It claims adoption in both pilot and project phase. So, how does Belendorf foresee the landscape of public blockchain winners, also rans and losers?

“It’s going to look like the languages and database world. You will have leaders and a thick short tail. We are in a Cambrian Explosion moment, but we will have a winnowing down as the venture capital funds dry up.

“We will end up with half a dozen frameworks that we need to figure out how to wire together. Most of the examples I give are on Fabric because it’s had the most active selling job by vendors and it’s been around the longest and has the best fit for problems of today.”

He expects more Hyperledger projects, but a big focus must be on maturity – improving documentation, increasing scalability, and removing bugs that prevent Hyperledger being as plug and play as it should.

“The advantage of having the Hyperledger project portfolio is people can channel their interests where they want to work. The greatest number of commits are on Fabric, Sawtooth and Indy and even they are running hard to add new features. They know that to get people to use the features they have that they need to add documentation and examples code.

“As they get to 1.0, they need to spend less time rushing to add new features and more time on polish – but open-source software always has these issues,” he said.

“There’s more we can do, to have core developers thinking about how to make the journey for the new user easier. We are not perfect… but we have staff focussed on that.”

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