When The Block spoke with Brian Behlendorf, executive director of Hyperledger, back in September 2017, there was a feeling of a major milestone having been reached. In the previous three months, the community had seen the release of Hyperledger Fabric 1.0 – which this publication summarised as “advancing the enterprise blockchain space a step further” – as well as the likes of Oracle getting on board and the London Stock Exchange using Fabric for its securities solution.
At the time, Behlendorf outlined Hyperledger’s mission of community and empowerment with blockchain technologies. “This is more than just evolution – there’s a revolution going on,” he said.
“We’re really focused on making sure the companies that get involved not only are empowered as end users of the technology, but see a direct line between their involvement. Whether it’s financially supporting an organisation or it’s with developers who actually like the code, they see a return for that investment.”
Fast forward to today and the number of companies getting involved has turned from a stream into a torrent. Among the most recent announcements included US agricultural giant Cargill and Poste Italiane, the Italian postal service. The latter was also included in a start-of-the-year roundup where eight new members were announced.
This is all good news for Marta Piekarska (left), director of ecosystem at Hyperledger, but there is plenty still to be getting on with. “This is not a hype,” she says. “We are beyond it and getting into reality – with all the hard work and the huge opportunities it brings.”
Piekarska’s job is to evangelise and educate on blockchain technologies and open source, as well as helping create outreach programs; one academic program ‘aims to bring researchers and enterprises together for a fruitful collaboration’, as she puts it. Yet evangelising and educating can be different things – and Piekarska’s role is not to sugar-coat.
“Blockchain is hard,” she explains. “We do not have good experts that are objective and will help companies choose the right technology. We are all lazy: we learn one thing and are then eager to convince everyone that this is the right solution for any problem. With so many flavours of blockchain out there, from Ethereum, through six Hyperledger frameworks to Corda or MultiChain, it is complicated to know and I understand good and bad applications for all of them.”
So what is the correct path to pursue? Piekarska notes the collaboration aspects. “Blockchain requires collaboration between distrustful parties – so we need to rethink our business models and approach to development,” says Piekarska. “If you design with blockchain in mind, you have a lot of devices, participants and technologies you need to coordinate.
“You also need transparency to put an emphasis on provenance – you will hugely benefit from a blockchain-based solution. It brings a universal view of information, creates a single source of truth, simplifies the complexity of operation, and decreases costs.”
The importance of open source in bringing about this collaboration and transparency goes without saying. Yet it has been an interesting time across the open source community in recent months. As reported by sister publication CloudTech, several players in the database arena have resorted to changing their licensing terms to avoid losing out on earnings opportunities.
This has subsequently led to friction between these companies and developer communities. But as Piekarska notes, it’s a two-way street. “Open source is really the only way to go in the technology world,” she says. “With open source you do not need to rely on a single vendor or single company, which removes huge organisational risk. If the supporter of a technology disappears, there will be many others that will take up the work.
“There is a massive opportunity that big players are seeing in using open source technologies,” adds Piekarska. “Almost all major companies now open source departments and are working with lawyers to learn how they can safely contribute to open source solutions.
“While using open solutions is great, it is also on the whole community to build it. It is a push and pull game, and, without contributions, open source solutions will seize to exist.”
A large part of Piekarska’s role is speaking at industry events, with Hyperledger having an extensive presence at Blockchain Expo Global in April, including a dedicated Hyperledger stage. “We will talk about real-life use cases, how blockchain can be beneficial for companies and what Hyperledger does,” she says. “We are excited to showcase some of our members and their use cases and to discuss the challenges and opportunities blockchain presents.”