Blockchain promises to revolutionise the way in which we use technology - probably more than any other invention since Tim Berners-Lee dreamed up the world wide web. Coverage in recent months has been widespread, though mostly focussed around massive fluctuations in the value of cryptocurrencies.
Yet, whilst blockchain and the various cryptocurrencies that it underpins are getting all the headlines, some of the biggest names in the business - including Accenture, Cisco, IBM, Fujitsu and SAP - are backing a different horse: Hyperledger.
The Hyperledger project was created in December 2015 by the Linux Foundation, with the aim of advancing cross-industry collaboration of the blockchain and other distributed ledgers. A particular focus of Hyperledger from the outset was on improving the performance and reliability of such solutions so that they could become capable of underpinning the digital transformation being sought by the world's largest businesses. The project is built upon open protocols and standards by means of a framework for use-specific modules.
The project announced its production-ready Hyperledger Fabric 1.0 in July last year, and began to gain immediate popularity. Shortly after, the London Stock Exchange Group announced that it will create a blockchain platform with IBM designed for digitally issuing shares; then, in September, Royal Bank of Canada commenced using Hyperledger for its North American interbank settlements.
More recently, Hyperledger released another open source digital ledger project named Sawtooth 1.0. Among the features of Sawtooth is on-chain governance, which lets members adjust the rules on the fly as required, and dynamic consensus to modify the blockchain consensus protocol as the technology advances; advanced transaction execution, which provides the ability to execute transactions in parallel and support for multiple languages and Ethereum.
It is the general open source ethos of the Hyperledger project that is perhaps its greatest advantage. As the internet of things (IoT) has recently found out to its cost, setting up a multitude of different protocols can cause huge interoperability headaches later on when everything finally gets connected.
The internet of broken things
On the face of it, the IoT looks like a success story of our times. The global market for IoT is expected to grow from $392.1 billion in 2017 to $1.0 trillion by 2022 and boasts a compound annual growth rate of almost 22 per cent. However, under the surface all is not well, with some giving it the ungracious moniker of ‘the Internet of Broken Things'.
With organisations primarily motivated by their desire to ensure first mover advantage, a tangled web of IoT solutions was developed independently from each other. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that many of those organisations were traditional hardware manufacturers that had limited or no experience interfacing with IT infrastructure, so they simply didn't understand the potential difficulties.
Now, these interoperability issues within the IoT ecosystem are coming back to haunt them and unfortunately show no signs of going away. As it stands, devices from different brands remain on the whole incompatible at the data layer, meaning you can't transfer any data from one IoT device (for example an Apple Watch) to another (such as a Fitbit). This interoperability issue will only get worse too, as we continue to have more and more connected devices in our homes, cars, and where we work.
Hyperledger is the key
Blockchain promises to change the way industries as diverse as supply chain, healthcare, entertainment, financial services and more conduct business and execute transactions. Because blockchain weaves the security into the data itself - providing a full audit trail that everyone can see - it affords many industries with the transparency and intelligence that has so far been beyond their capabilities.
Precisely how, and the pace at which, each of these industries adopts blockchain will surely vary. Yet, the ability to provide a permanent, incorruptible and irreversible record of a transaction has made it central to the next stage of the wider digital transformation of the world that we live in.
An element of caution is required though. Unless the blockchain heeds the lessons learnt from other technology trends - such as the IoT - and places collaboration at its core, then it could still end up on the technological scrap heap. Only an open source, collaborative software development approach can ensure the transparency, longevity, interoperability and support required to bring blockchain technologies forward to mainstream commercial adoption. Hyperledger could well prove to be the key that blockchain needs to become truly transformative.
Chris is the CEO & founder of Omnitude, a blockchain smart platform that connects blockchain technologies, eCommerce platforms & enterprise systems. He is also the MD of Pixel by Pixel - a design, development & e-commerce agency. He has over 12 years experience in design, development & e-commerce.
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