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Riding The Blockchain Train, Together

Blockchain … Two words, packed into one, and surrounded by endless speculative swirl, complicating its use cases. For this month’s Developer Tracker feature story, PYMNTS caught up with Brian Behlendorf, executive director of Hyperledger, a collaborative group of developers looking for new uses for blockchain, beyond powering cryptocurrency. Find that, along with news on India’s demonetization, the latest headlines and a directory of nearly 200 of the largest players in the space, in the Tracker.

Blockchain has come a long way over that last few years. Since bursting onto the scene as the rails guiding the fast-growing and mysterious cryptocurrency known as bitcoin, blockchain has become an accepted and important part of the financial infrastructure.

Projections show that, while the blockchain technology market is already worth more than $210 million as of 2016, it could see exponential growth, becoming worth over $1 billion by the end of the decade, as more uses for the technology are discovered.

But for all the excitement surrounding the technology, it remains largely unknown and underdeveloped. Because it’s so new, many consumers and financial professionals are unsure of its potential, and even some of the world’s biggest companies are looking for answers when it comes to the technology.

To Brian Behlendorf, executive director of the Hyperledger Project, that’s exactly what makes blockchain such a tantalizing and promising innovation.

“As a geek, that’s what’s exciting,” he said. “Because there’s so much that’s not known, everything anyone does is kind of unprecedented.”

To find answers to those unknowns, companies are coming together to research and develop new uses for blockchain as part of the Hyperledger Project, an open-source collaborative effort started by the Linux Foundation, aimed at advancing blockchain technologies across a variety of industries. The group is currently working on software development that began at companies like IBM and Intel.

PYMNTS recently caught up with Behlendorf, who discussed the group’s efforts and blockchain’s potential to power different industries and software in the future.

Finding a way to the finish line

Hyperledger works with companies that are finding new use cases for blockchain technology. And thus far, the company has launched three of these software projects publicly: Fabric, Iroha and Sawtooth Lake.

Fabric, Behlendorf said, is a project that was started by IBM and released by Hyperledger last year. It’s an implementation of blockchain that leverages proven technologies, enabling developers to more easily create apps and software that run on blockchain.

A small Japanese software firm started the Iroha project, which was designed to serve as a simple and easily adaptable ledger technology built with blockchain. Intel gave birth to Sawtooth Lake, a modular blockchain suite designed with built-in scalability, to be used in fields including the Internet of Things (IoT), health care and financial services.

These projects that Hyperledger has already adopted and released, along with others still in the works, have different beginnings, objectives and scopes. However, they each share a common thread. Rather than pursuing the cryptocurrency elements of blockchain, all of the consortium’s projects work to find new potential purposes for blockchain.

Behlendorf said that, while the individual projects each held plenty of promise in their early stages, they also required more work to become finished projects. Because the companies submitting the projects must be open to changing the scope of those efforts, Behlendorf noted that the team at Hyperledger looks for projects with exactly those characteristics when finding new developments to work on.

“You have developers coming from companies, individual developers, whatever it may be, but they’re driven by a set of common needs, which we can answer with resources,” Behlendorf explained.

Blockchain balancing act

Because Hyperledger takes on projects that are in progress from other development teams, the group has to balance a number of different voices.

For example, while Fabric and Sawtooth Lake came from a pair of big-name companies, Iroha was started by a small development startup. Behlendorf said that, while it can sometimes be a challenge to get so many parties working toward a common goal, the Hyperledger Project is designed to do just that by bringing different companies with their own plans and potential uses for blockchain technology together with a common focus.

The key to the organization’s success, Behlendorf said, is that the different companies who participate do so willingly and eagerly.

“It’s all a do-mocracy,” Behlendorf said. “For every line of code, we’re dependent on the companies bringing their developers and the independent developers getting together with them and forging something in common. The downside of that is that you need to create a compelling case to get that fire lit, but on the upside, it means that no one is waiting for one developer or a team to do everything for them, but they’re all working together to build something.”

Behlendorf noted that Fabric is a particularly good example of how Hyperledger works to take smart ideas that have yet to become successful software and turn them into a finished product.

“It started life internally at IBM as a research project, so they brought the code along with documentation and a bunch of other things,” he said. “But they knew they needed to get input and build a community around it and make it less of an IBM project and more of a multi-stakeholder project. So, in that time, Fabric has had contributions from many other developers and now is on course.”

By combining the ideas and development teams from different companies with the expertise and resources offered by the Hyperledger Project, Behlendorf and his team have found ways to finish blockchain projects begun by companies of all sizes and bring them to the public, all while expanding use cases for the technology.

So, while blockchain’s future might be somewhat murky, it seems that collaboration between companies may play a large role in tapping its potential.

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About The Tracker

The Developer Tracker™, powered by Vantiv, provides the payments ecosystem with a view into how software developers are using new technologies to create innovative business opportunities and enable merchants to optimize the ways in which they engage with shoppers today. The developer community within the tracker is separated into three categories: Shopping and Payments, Operations and Marketing.


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