The Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA), a membership organization dedicated to creating standards that speed the mass adoption of blockchain technology, and Hyperledger, Linux Foundation's collaborative project for open-source blockchain platforms, announced they have formally joined each other's organizations as associate members. In a joint statement the two said, "The collaboration between our organizations will further accelerate adoption of blockchain technologies for business."
ETHNews spoke to Hyperledger Executive Director Brian Behlendorf and EEA Executive Director Ron Resnick about the strengths each organization brings to the alliance, the challenges they face, and what the future holds. (Quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.)
Can you provide an overview of the purpose of this collaboration?
Behlendorf: There are a lot of enterprises now that are moving from proof-of-concept to pilot and production with blockchain technology. They are seeing where it can be used in finance, in supply chains, in healthcare, all sorts of interesting settings. And as they do that, they want to know: What's the longevity for the platforms they are picking?
There are two complementary approaches to that. One is to talk about open-source software as the driver for the underlying development of the code and the communities that work together on that, much the same way that they have in the Linux ecosystem. Not secondarily, but equally, to talk about open standards. There might be two completely different implementations or two different vendors who claim to be offering enterprise blockchain technologies, but somebody in enterprise building really wants to know that they can port their application easily, they can fire one vendor and hire another without having to dump their investment in the applications they are building on top for all those good reasons.
As Ron came on board with the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, we started talking and realizing we have two very complementary approaches here. Hyperledger has been very focused on rallying companies to build common bits and common software...For example, we have a project at Hyperledger called Burrow that implements the Ethereum Virtual Machine stack. And, likewise, the EEA approach is to rally companies together to work on specifications that can define specifically how you use Ethereum technologies in various enterprise circumstances. Once defining that into a standard, how do you run a specification process to guarantee to the end-user community that these solutions are compatible with each other?
So, we started talking and building a relationship and finding these points in common but still realizing that out in the market there was still a perception of Hyperledger vs. Ethereum, which was unfortunate because we have these projects in common and because we think there is even more we can be doing together. So, we felt it would be useful for us to formally join each other's organizations to be better coordinated on different activities that we are doing, and to encourage our communities to think about…bringing [standards] to EEA or looking at what EEA has already specified in terms of standards.
And, likewise, we hope that the communities at EEA that are working on standard technologies, when they think about the need to build a reference implementation or a production implementation, that they think about collaborating around that kind of thing by doing a project at Hyperledger.
Resnick: I came onboard the EEA last January…and my world is all about standardization and interoperability no matter where you go. For example, if you buy a phone and put a sim card in, you don't even doubt that that phone is going to work no matter where you are in the world.
And there are two parts to that. Part one is that there is a global standard called LTE and there are standards orgs…that define these standards, but they go beyond these standards, and we are going to do the same thing in the EEA. They have a certification program that enforces and validates that their solutions, whether it be hardware or software, conform to the specification itself and those certifications are done through an independent third-party lab, which gives enterprises a tremendous amount of comfort to know they can have multiple vendors of choice for purchasing solutions – and also that there is no vendor lock-in, and they have assurance from a third-party lab that their solution conform to the actual specification.
So, that's our world, what we are doing now in the EEA. We have published our first spec, and at Devcon4, there is going to be a big announcement that we are going to publish the iteration of the spec. By the second half of next year, we are going to have a certification program globally…We're just naturally aligned because the EEA does not write code. We are a members org. We just write specifications and the code or the software from open-source organizations such as Hyperledger.
What is the most important aspect Hyperledger brings to this partnership?
Behlendorf: We have two platforms now that have support for Ethereum smart contracts that I see potentially getting certification as compliant to EEA specifications, which are Hyperledger Sawtooth and Hyperledger Fabric. These are the two production blockchain systems being used today. So, what I think we can bring is potentially a couple of large user bases who now would have the option tonot just use Ethereum smart contracts but also participate in their ongoing standardization and development.
The second thing I think we bring is: often when you are developing a standard, having a reference implementation of that standard helps accelerate adoption of that standard by everybody in the ecosystem. Sometimes you want some rivalry and you will want three or four different implementations of the same spec because people have different systems they want to adapt them to or different performance characteristics they want to see, but sometimes just having a common library that implements a standard puts it into everyone's hands and gets it into production faster. And so my hope would be that as the Ethereum community is working on these standards, that from time to time they will say, "Hey, why don't we work on common code that implements this standard and have these two processes match to together in some useful way?" and do the software development side of that effort at Hyperledger.
What is the most important aspect that the EEA bring to this partnership?
Resnick: If we can do things to harmonize the ecosystem and [be aware] that there is a common platform for global interoperability whereby the EEA now encourages the folks from Hyperledger who are developing solutions to also consider being part of the EEA and should they decide they would like to certify products they can join. So, there is a mutual interest in having Hyperledger and other companies to secure design wins and have the choice to say, "Look, I really want to have a solution that is based on enterprise Ethereum." These companies now have a nice, clear path to do it where they feel welcomed. So, that is part of why we are doing this. We are a member-driven standards organization; everybody is welcome. That includes the folks who are developing proprietary solutions.
What has been the biggest challenge in developing this partnership, and what are some challenges you foresee in the future?
Behlendorf: I think just explaining to the world the fact that we are complementary when everyone in the world wants a horserace. Everyone wants A vs. B vs. C and to know who to put their money on. In the world of technology it is more complicated than that. We are still at a moment when there is a lot of new ground to explore in terms of how to build these systems. It's still the early to mid-90s of the world wide web, you might say. This isn't about shutting down innovation. This isn't about saying, "Okay, we solved it, and everyone has to converge on one solution or one standard."
We are at a moment when the Cambrian explosion is now bearing fruit and people are realizing that there are some leading stacks and some leading standards out there, and let's think about how we can double down on those. People are starting to talk more about interoperability concretely, starting to talk about convergence more concretely. Because all the interesting stuff, frankly, is going to happen on top of the systems and standards we build. For the most part, in the long term, companies should be able to invest the majority of their R&D dollars not in infrastructure but in building the apps and services on top. So, we are here in two complementary ways to help accelerate that. Helping people understand that – even though this is a pattern that has repeated itself in the technology industry for 30 years – still, articulating that to the public is a big challenge.
Resnick: I have been on calls with major banks and major operators…The questions I get, they still think we are a part of Bitcoin.
The challenge is to try to educate and inform, and then demonstrate use cases where we collaborate and show them the value of incorporating blockchain technology as part of their solution set and keep growing it.
What is the future main goal for this partnership?
Resnick: One of the reasons why I even took this position on is that I am committed to social impact…I would like to work really hard to support these initiatives like where there's 1.1 billion people who don't have an identity. And it doesn't have to come all from the EEA. We just need to figure out the future role of enterprise. So many of them are [paying more attention] to social causes and impact. I hope our organization can do something along those lines five years down the road because it's not going to happen overnight. But on the enterprise side, five years down the road, there is no doubt in my mind you are going to see a lot of blockchain use cases for all kinds of stuff.
Behlendor: Five years feels like such a long time to think about. And definitely it was the social impact use cases that pulled me into the blockchain space, and those motivate a lot of the people around us. The bigger picture is that we are building tools that help markets and information systems be decentralized, or more widely distributed than they have a tendency to be. We have gotten really good in other parts of the tech world in building big central systems that scale up to millions of transactions a second, such as Facebook and Twitter, and that is great if you are an early investor in Facebook or Twitter, but potentially not great if you are in an ecosystem of providers who all become essentially citizens of their state.
It's things like blockchain technology that really help build more fair and auditable markets. Industries do not want to see a central provider emerge in their industry that forces everybody to just live on their estate and sucks up all the profits from that sector. It's funny how much convergence and agreement there is between the needs of many of these industries and, frankly, the needs of many people thinking about social impact. Power corrupts, and these are tools to equalize power. There is a lot of inspiration we can take from the cryptocurrency community and from the broader Ethereum community in thinking about how to build these things at scale in a way that helps bring trust back to digital systems that I think we've lost in a big way.