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Hyperledger blockchain projects go from incubation to production-ready status

Last year I wrote a blog on the Hyperledger project and what that could mean for blockchain acceptance (see my blog: Hyperledger Project: collaboration pays off, 9 April 2017). We are now almost a year later and I am wondering if they are meeting my expectations.

"2017 was a milestone year for Hyperledger both for new members and for new technical breakthroughs. In 2017 we doubled our membership, gaining companies like American Express, Cisco, Daimler and Baidu, and we're expecting more companies and organizations to join in 2018." Brian Behlendorf, Executive Director, Hyperledger

Many blockchain followers know the Hyperledger Fabric Framework. This is the most used one in the various trials worldwide. But in the meantime the Hyperledger community has developed a whole series of these projects and tools that are less familiar. The purpose of this blog is to get more insight into these offerings  and how they are developing from the incubation to the real production-ready status.  

But first of all a reminder!

The Hyperledger Project

The Hyperledger project that was launched end 2015, is the international blockchain consortium of companies and organizations hosted by the Linux Foundation. Their goal is to collectively build an open source platform for the development of blockchains. Hyperledger thereby aims to enable organizations to build robust, industry-specific applications, platforms and hardware systems to support their individual business transactions by creating enterprise grade, open source distributed ledger frameworks and code bases.

The project has attracted the attention of several large companies that were early adopters of distributed ledger technologies at that time. The consortium nearly doubled in size last year to reach almost 200 members. Today, more than 220 organizations now support the Hyperledger initiative, including leading companies in finance, banking, Internet of Things, supply chains, manufacturing and technology development.

Pros of the Hyperledger project
The Hyperledger project has a number of pros that distinct them from other blockchain consortia. First of all Hyperledger is open-source, offering a "neutral home" for incubating technology. They are developing codes as open-source and bringing enterprises together to share knowledge and experience. This may lead to much faster adoption and better solutions than if it is simply built in-house. Second, Hyperledger is not focusing on one area of appliance, but on universal use cases. The software developed at Hyperledger has been adopted in many industries including supply chain, healthcare, finance etc. But what is more important, the Hyperledger Fabric, one of the  (considered) most mature, extensive, flexible and active developed frameworks, allows users to create private channels in public settings, enabling the security and privacy that is needed.


Umbrella strategy
Hyperledger operates under an "umbrella" strategy. It is set up as a specialized hub for blockchain projects that facilitates not only the development, but also the commercialization of enterprise-grade blockchain based projects. Hyperledger “incubates” and promotes blockchain technologies for business, including distributed ledgers, client libraries, graphical interfaces and smart contract engines.

This strategy nowadays encompasses a (growing) number of blockchain projects,  including blockchain frameworks, in addition to a number of development tools.  At the moment Hyperledger incubates nine business blockchain and distributed ledger technologies, of which five blockchain frameworks and three development tools. These are in various stages of development and cover unique blockchain applications.

Blockchain frameworks
The Hyperledger project pursues several approaches for the implementation of private and permissioned blockchain applications in a modular way.  Hyperledger currently supports six blockchain sub projects with names like Fabric, Sawtooth, Burrow, Indy, Iroha and Quilt. These occur in conjunction with fundamentally different implementation approaches for blockchain solutions. Each platform provides clients for different programming languages and frameworks, so that any application can communicate with the resulting blockchain network.

Quilt is developed to offer interoperability between ledger systems by implementing ILP, which is a payments protocol designed to transfer value across distributed and non-distributed ledgers. Iroha is a business blockchain framework for infrastructure projects that require the use of distributed ledger technology. It includes a chain-based Byzantine Fault Tolerant consensus algorithm. Soramitsu, Hitachi, NTT DATA and Colu originally proposed this framework. Burrow is a smart-contract creator with a permissioned smart-contract interpreter included. It is an implementation of the Ethereum Virtual Machine. And Indy is a distributed ledger with a decentralized identity designed to create independent digital identities between blockchains. In other words a "self-sovereign identity tool" for large-scale identity networks.

In addition to the above mentioned platforms, there are the projects that build tools for the ecosystem. The present layer of incubated tools includes names like Composer, Explorer and Cello.

These tools may simplify the use of the platforms or add new functionalities. The number of incubated tools is likely to increase significantly in the future. But first there is still a number of questions to be answered regarding the automation, migration and deployment of individual platforms.

"I should note that our projects including Hyperledger Indy (for identity), Hyperledger Burrow (for smart contracts), Hyperledger Quilt (for interoperability) and Hyperledger Composer and Cello (developer tools) are agnostic about consensus mechanisms and would work fine with permissionless approaches," Behlendorf

The biggest tool from the project, Composer, can be seen as a framework for Fabric. Composer is an open development tool set designed to make it easier to integrate existing business systems with the blockchain. It facilitates the development and modelling of business networks. Cello and Explorer can also be used with Fabric.

From incubation to active status to “production-ready” status
Of the several projects admitted for incubation status last year only three frameworks have graduated to "active status". IBM-contributed Fabric, Intel-contributed Sawtooth, and Iroha, contributed by Japanese startup Soramitsu (with support from Hitachi and several others). This has set the stage for the July launch of Fabric 1.0, deemed the consortium's first "production-ready" or enterprise-grade blockchain platform.

Hyperledger Fabric seems to be considered the most mature, extensive, flexible  and active of them. Fabric is designed with the widest range of use cases in mind. Some of the key features of the Fabric framework offers include channels for sharing confidential information; bring-your-own Membership Service Provider (MSP); and, CouchDB world state supports wide range of queries.

"On the technical side, 30 companies and more than 100 developers contributed to the launch of the first production ready Hyperledger blockchain framework called Hyperledger Fabric." Brian Behlendorf, Executive Director, Hyperledger

This process will continue in 2018
”2018 looks very promising for production deployments, and I think we’re just on the edge of this technology as part of a new Internet stack that will significantly impact the way we conduct business and society.” "Interoperability in a multi-blockchain world will be the major focus in 2018. A number of Hyperledger projects are exploring integrations among one another including Hyperledger Sawtooth and Burrow and Indy, Composer and Quilt." Brian Behlendorf, Executive Director, Hyperledger

Hyperledger Sawtooth 1.0 launched
Hyperledger has announced (end January 2018) the release of Hyperledger Sawtooth 1.0, available to developers, banks and other companies wishing to experiment with it. Blockchain proof-of-concept pilots based on Sawtooth 1.0 have already been deployed to support multiple business cases, including music and media content rights attribution, healthcare transaction recordings, Know Your Customer (KYC) in financial services and others. Sawtooth is a new modular platform for building, deploying, and running distributed ledgers. This is the second of the active Linux Foundation  Hyperledger  open source projects to reach a 1.0 version or production-ready status, following Hyperledger Fabric which reached 1.0 in July last year.

Sawtooth, an Intel-contributed platform comes with unique features that could endear it to users, including its use of smart contracts. The key to Sawtooth’s features is that Sawtooth relies on a different consensus mechanism than Fabric. This consensus mechanism that is maintained without a central authority, could prove valuable to banks, fintechs, or other companies when it comes to allowing additional participants into a network or in structuring compliance, as well as in creating or experimenting with other financial initiatives, like Know Your Customer projects. The new mechanism also allows Sawtooth — and thus, the developers and companies using the platform — to approach its use of smart contracts in a different way than Fabric, potentially opening the technology’s use to more areas of finance.

“If you look at this different consensus mechanism, proof of lapsed time, it enables [projects] to scale in a very different way from how they scale on Fabric.” “Proof of lapsed time, a way to use the nodes on a larger blockchain network, “is a very different approach to scalability than Fabric.” Brian Behlendorf, executive director for the Hyperledger project.

Hyperledger is introducing experimental Hyperledger Labs
Hyperledger recently (January 2018) approved a measure to create Hyperledger Labs. As an effort to bring early-stage startups together with companies that are formally recognized by Hyperledger, the Hyperledger Labs is aimed to accelerate the rate at which new ideas find traction and reach maturity.

"This is a way to expand the Hyperledger community." "We've had a couple of projects proposed for incubation [to] the TSC, and the TSC has declined the request, but not because the work was shoddy, but rather because we felt that the project wasn't ripe enough yet, hadn't matured to the point where we could really understand and see that there's a solid community behind it." Chris Ferris, chairman of Hyperledger's technical steering committee and chief technical officer of IBM Open Technology.

This new measure may give startups access to some of the benefits that – up till now - only formally recognized companies (such as IBM) had access to. Perhaps the most important benefit being access to a separate GitHub code repository, where existing Hyperledger members and others can more easily identify the relationship to the consortium, examine the code being pushed to the repository, test it and provide feedback.

Overseeing the initiative will be a group of four "Labs stewards" from Hyperledger's TSC, who will give quarterly project reports to the broader community about participant progress, and kill projects that become dormant.

Hyperledger introduces blockchain benchmark tool Caliper
The Technical Steering Committee has accepted Caliper as Hyperledger’s latest project (March 2018). Caliper is a blockchain benchmark tool for blockchain frameworks designed to measure the performance of a specific blockchain implementation with a set of predefined use cases. Caliper will be listed in the tools section of the Hyperledger website. 

The Caliper project that started in May 2017 was designed and developed by Huawei. Developers from other groups including names like Oracle, Soramitsu, and IBM have since joined the work. Hyperledger wants Caliper to be used by its other projects as a reference when building out frameworks and choosing blockchain implementations. Hyperledger believes a common benchmarking tool is necessary because existing performance reports “don’t often provide the source code, making it hard to validate the evaluation, and there are no common defined indicators.”

A key component of Caliper is the adaptation layer. This enables the integration multiple blockchain solutions into the framework. The adaptor is implemented for each blockchain system under test and is responsible for the translation of Caliper NBIs (NorthBound interfaces) into corresponding blockchain protocol. The NBIs provides interaction with backend blockchain system.

“The hope is that Hyperledger Caliper provides the community with a functioning benchmark tool capable of running against many Hyperledger frameworks,” “With the help of the community, we will be putting continuous effort into the definition of performance indicators and benchmark use cases. The success of the project will depend on many users within the community using it as the benchmark tool.” Hyperledger

The hope is that the tool will provide benchmarking for many blockchain frameworks. For now, three Hyperledger sub projects are in scope for Caliper: Fabric, Sawtooth, and Iroha.

What can we further expect?

Several Hyperledger initiatives have been launched in 2017 with the aim to provide an open, smart, interoperable technology infrastructure that connects the global ecosystem. Interoperability is thereby seen by Hyperledger as of great importance, as more DLT providers have entered the market and more companies choose to create their own unique proprietary blockchains. Interoperability will allow each company, no matter what type of DLT they use, to work with each other without having to change what’s already implemented. We may expect to see several new Hyperledger projects, providing new types of ledgers, new versions of existing ones and specially amazing tools to work with. We will see new practices for legally binding of distributed ledgers and smart contracts as well as first impacts to industries using it. And we will see more projects and tools going from the incubation to the production-ready status.


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