The Hyperledger consortium dedicated to bringing blockchain to enterprises has accepted its first code that links businesses directly to a public blockchain, in this case, ethereum. Called Hyperledger Besu, the open-source codebase is almost identical to another ethereum enterprise solution, called Pantheon, developed by ethereum startup ConsenSys and running since April of this year. After some heated debate over whether Hyperledger was designed to expand by adding new code bases, or converge into a more unified offering, the vote was approved unanimously.
Among the most important differences between Pantheon and Hyperledger Besu is that since being approved by the Hyperledger Technical Steering Committee, the rebranded ethereum client will receive support training new users, certification of developers working with high-stakes enterprises, and will be more easily integrated with existing codebases, perhaps easing the path to adoption by ensuring that companies on potentially competing networks can work together.
“Historically, we have seen more demand for the permissioned networks because of the different features enterprises don’t want to share,” says Grace Hartley, an operations lead at ConsenSys. “But we’re seeing now, and we think Hyperledger will be a part of this, that the mainnet compatibility will become more of a player for enterprise use cases.”
Among the existing blockchain codebases Hyperledger Besu might be integrated with are Hyperledger Fabric, originally developed by IBM and contributed to the Hyperledger community, Hyperledger Sawtooth, originally developed by Intel, Hyperledger Caliper originally developed by Huawei, and Hyperledger Grid, originally developed by Cargill.
To give an idea of the scale of the work being supported by those codebases, projects already in the works include the IBM Food Trust Network, comprised of Golden State Foods, Nestlé, Wal-Mart and others seeking to bring transparency to the food supply chain and Salesforce Blockchain, an easier way to build networks of companies that share a common record of transactions, powered by Hyperledger Sawtooth.
The biggest difference between these tools and Besu is that while the current solutions only let networks of invited companies that already trust each other streamline work processes by using a shared, distributed ledger, Besu is also able to integrate with the public ethereum blockchain, which lets groups of strangers form permissionless networks on the main ethereum blockchain.
Besu was built by a team of 26 full-time employees at Brooklyn-based ConsenSys. Together, the team, and about 30 other employees go by the name PegaSys and operate somewhat like an independent startup. As is typical for projects incubated within Hyperledger, Besu was co-sponsored by other consortium members, in this case, ethereum co-founder and ConsenSys CEO Joe Lubin, JP Morgan engineer, Samer Falah, and Red Hat senior engineer Mark Wagner.
Besu evolved from PegaSys’ Pantheon ethereum client, which launched in April of this year, relies on the JAVA coding language popular among enterprise developers and is compliant with standards first developed by the non-profit Enterprise Ethereum Alliance. Unlike many other blockchain codebases, Besu and other Hyperledger solutions adhere to the Apache 2.0 software license, which means that enterprises building on the blockchain infrastructure, or using any of the open-source tools, retain full ownership of any intellectual property they create.
Historically, enterprises have been reluctant to use public blockchains like ethereum out of concern that valuable information about the counterparties in a transaction might accidentally be made public. As a result, while public blockchains promise to remove even more unnecessary middlemen than private blockchains, adoption has been minimal. Besu claims to have addressed these privacy concerns with a new permissioning system that lets users control who can access a network, privacy features that temporarily move some transactions off the public blockchain, and by giving users the choice to settle transactions on the public blockchain or using a private consensys mechanism. A separate codebase developed by PegaSys to further enable transactions on the public ethereum blockchain, called Orion, is not being contributed to Hyperledger.
Already, 28 external contributors had created a total of 111 updates to Besu as of July 31, 2019. Dozens of startups have also tested the platform, according to Hartley, and in May 2019, her team at PegaSys partnered with LiquidShare, a European group backed by Euronext, Société Générale, BNP Paribas and Euroclear, to build a platform that will launch in 2020 to make it easier for small and medium-sized enterprises’ to access capital markets.
“It is a very active community,” says Hartley.
While Besu’s admission to Hyperledger is a first for public blockchains, Besu builds on momentum developed from other projects both in and out of Hyperledger. Earlier this month, the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance behind standards guiding Besu’s development formed its own public blockchain working group chaired by Ethereum Foundation director Aya Miyaguchi. In April 2017 Hyperledger’s technical steering committee approved Hyperleder Burrow, a solution for permissioned blockchains using the same ethereum virtual machine (EVM) as ethereum, and six months later Hyperledger Quilt, originally developed by Ripple, was admitted as a way to connect almost any blockchain with any other blockchain.
Hyperledger was founded in 2015 after a company of the same name was purchased by venture-backed Digital Asset Holdings, which then handed over the trademark and early code to the non-profit Linux Foundation. Now comprised of over 250 members, including Accenture, American Express, Baidu and the DTCC, technology supported by the non-profit organization was used by more than half the members of the inaugural Forbes Blockchain 50 list earlier year. While exact numbers of projects using Hyperledger platforms are impossible to identify, since the opensource software can be downloaded by anyone, executive director Brian Behlendorf estimates there are between 100 and 200 active projects.
Now that Besu has been admitted to Hyperledger, the codebase still needs to integrated into Hyperledger’s GitHub code repository and the Rocketchat work group and to obtain a certification from the Linux Foundation that says the developers follow best practices in their implementation of infrastructure technology. As for Hyperledger, the group’s executive director, Brian Behlendorf says that while there will never be a “hypercoin,” the admission of Besu marks a transition to a new phase of public blockchain integration with private blockchains.
“Hyperledger’s first goal was just to prove the concept of enterprise blockchain, let’s get some stuff out there that can be deployed into production,” says Behlendorf, “And now that those bets are paying off, now that we see a lot of success, over time our mission has to evolve to support the hybrid models. How do we get more efficiency, rather than just being a team of rivals?”