Bitcoin gets all the headlines for blockchain technology but the Linux Foundation has plans to make blockchain useful in the enterprise. Famed programmer and leader Brian Behlendorf will be leading the way as executive director of the Hyperledger Project.
If you haven't been following Bitcoin technology, you may not know what blockchain is all about. Blockchain is an open-source virtual shared and distributed database, often called a ledger. With its high degree of security it can be used not just for virtual currency but for tracking complex data across networks and the internet.
The Hyperledger Project, with support from such members as IBM, Intel, and Accenture, is a collaborative effort to establish, build and sustain an open, distributed ledger enterprise platform.
The Project was founded in December of 2015. Its aim is to create common distributed ledger technology that is shared, transparent and decentralized. This will make it ideal for application in finance and countless other areas such as manufacturing, banking, insurance and the Internet of Things. By creating a cross-industry open standard for distributed ledgers, any digital exchange with value, such as real estate contracts, energy trades and marriage licenses, can securely and cost-effectively be tracked and traded
Behlendorf needs no introduction to technology professionals. He was a primary Apache web server developer and a founding member of the Apache Software Foundation. He was the founding CTO of CollabNet, CTO of the World Economic Forum and a board member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Most recently, Behlendorf was a managing director at Mithril Capital Management LLC, a global technology investment firm.
So what is he doing running an open-source foundation when he could be retired and enjoying life? In an interview, Behlendorf explained, "Like many I've been tracking the alt.currency and distributed ledger technology space for quite awhile, watching both the market dynamics and open-source community dynamics. I became very optimistic about the chance for this to get us out of some really hard problems regarding trustworthy systems and the concentration of IT power."
"But," he continued, "I also became worried about the unique challenges the developers in this space were facing, from working with major companies who might not quite understand FLOSS [Free/Libre and Open Source Software] processes, to the intense pressure these devs feel to get it right. I could have stood on the sidelines and tossed out tweets and advice, but I felt I needed to make a more substantive contribution, and not with a start-up or big company hat on." So, after spending time at community hackathons and meetups, he "realized this was a great thing in the making, and I had to be involved."
He added, "Distributed ledgers are essential to the next generation of the internet technology stack. The Hyperledger Project is all about bringing together developers to build common distributed ledger technology, a rising tide that will lift all boats. Open Source projects are great for this kind of work, but it takes a real community to fulfill that promise, and it will require collaborating with our friends in the blockchain technology community We're ready to do all that right now."
Behlendorf continued, "There is no shortage of big visions for blockchain technology as part of a new internet technology stack that, if done right, can have tremendous positive impact for the tech industry and society in general. Hyperledger's role is to enable whatever happens up that stack by building a great, trustworthy, modular, Apache-licensed and transparently built foundation for the base of that stack. We are the plumbers, the Harry Tuttles (Brazil movie reference), and if we're successful everyone gets to move on up the stack to more interesting, profitable, powerful applications."
As for Hyperledger's rivals,, such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, Behlendorf said:
What the Bitcoin and Ethereum communities have accomplished is amazing. Not only are they innovating like mad, their code has withstood intense scrutiny, and real businesses are building on it. We are not competing with them, any more than the Debian community competes with kernel.org. Developers from these projects have already participated in Hyperledger meetups, and we're looking for more ways to share code and be compatible.
We differ in one way, we have a particular focus on enabling permissioned blockchain use cases. This is not as easy as just running the Bitcoin or Ethereum chain code on a set of named nodes and building a private chain. The differences may go as deep into the platform as the differences between ACID-compliant relational databases and hyper-scalable "eventually-consistant" NoSQL databases. In the long term, I think we will want to find ways to enable both permissioned and unpermissioned cases from the same body of code, not only to increase the amount of code we can share with the other unpermissioned projects out there, but because our members already are suggesting use cases that hint at unpermissioned. There is even a spectrum between these two states, such as public read, or lightweight voting on allowing non-anonymous nodes to join a permissioned chain.
This is an Open Source project in code and process and spirit, a do-ocracy, so really it's going to be about who shows up to our project and what they want to help us build. There's no reason we can't collaborate with everyone in this space. That's one reason I love being back in the thick of it.
With Behlendorf at the helm, I foresee Hyperledger becoming a power in the growing blockchain technology world.