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Interview with Brian Behlendorf, Executive Director of Hyperledger

“A shared code base serves as an excellent way of concurrently building a standard for coexisting on a blockchain”

JAX Editorial Team
blockchain

Blockchain has matured over the last year, but it is still a nascent technology. We talked to Brian Behlendorf, Executive Director of Hyperledger about this initiative’s next plans and goals with blockchain, the most exciting areas for this technology and more.

JAXenter: Some people are under the impression that the hype around the blockchain technology is decreasing. At the same time, companies aren’t keeping their experiments with blockchain behind closed doors anymore; we can actually see the results, we see that blockchain can be put into practice and everything works. Has the blockchain technology finally grown up?

Brian Behlendorf: Blockchain has definitely matured over the last year, but it is still a nascent technology and we have a long ways to go. Sure, we have real running production systems and there is real value on these different networks, but now it’s on to the next challenge: figuring out how to wire them together, which is a greater priority now than it was a few years ago.

But even outside the blockchain space, interoperability is a process, never a destination. People are starting to finally ask how do we get out of a simplistic mode of saying everyone should all be on the same public ledger and instead get to a more sophisticated set of questions, like what does interoperability actually look like. It might mean wiring these things together with common software underneath. It might also mean common software on top. There are even harder things to tackle outside of the technology, like governance, security and interoperability. And we’re going to be addressing those over the next several years.

JAXenter: What are Hyperledger’s next plans and goals with this technology?

Brian Behlendorf: As stewards at Hyperledger and by extension, The Linux Foundation, we’re on this journey along with everyone else. Our focus for the next few years will be helping to facilitate interoperability and actually getting these systems to work together so that they can provide real value. Since we’re not building the software ourselves, our role will be more in helping companies, developers and others make the right connections and weed out solutions that are not viable.

By the end of the year, we’re hoping for one or two more Hyperledger projects to hit 1.0 milestones. The beauty of a cross-company and industry open source project like Hyperledger is that organizations can share the unprofitable and unsexy work of building the libraries and standards, which underlie systems. A shared code base also serves as an excellent way of concurrently building a standard for coexisting on a blockchain.

A shared code base also serves as an excellent way of concurrently building a standard for coexisting on a blockchain.

JAXenter: The Hyperledger project was announced in late 2015 with the goal of providing an open source enterprise framework for distributed ledgers. Has Hyperledger fulfilled its promise? What has happened in the Hyperledger universe since its inception?

Brian Behlendorf: The goal for an open source project isn’t just to solve some technical problem in an open way, but to be a long-term bedrock foundation for a software ecosystem. This is what the blockchain community needs today, and that’s why Hyperledger exists. That is what we’ve been building towards over the last two and a half years.

Again, I think we’re still on a long journey, but Hyperledger has been successful in fulfilling its vision thus far. Since kicking off the project in Feb 2016, we’re up to 10 different frameworks and tools, gained support from more than 270 members and hit development 1.0 milestones with two projects. A huge goal of ours was to reach more production deployments this year, and we’ve seen more than 50 live production deployments based on Hyperledger technologies take shape and expect to see even more before the end of Q4.

Additionally, we’ve seen more than 27K commits to our projects, with more than 600 contributors. From a community perspective, we now have 9 active working groups, more than 140 meetups worldwide, and 100K people have signed up for the Hyperledger business blockchain course launched by EdX.

SEE ALSO: Preparing for a career in the growing enterprise blockchain industry

JAXenter: You have been Executive Director of the Hyperledger project since 2016. How did you get involved? What fascinates you personally about blockchain technology?

Brian Behlendorf: I had been tracking developments in the blockchain space in my last job, but was highly skeptical of much of what I was hearing and felt there were very pragmatic applications (like land titles in emerging markets, or supply chain traceability, or even medical record sharing) that would be achievable without needing a coin or wanton CPU consumption.  More broadly, I had grown increasingly concerned about the dramatic centralization taking place on the Internet over the last ten years and felt it was important that we start building tools and platforms that made building distributed and cooperative technology platforms much, much easier. I knew I wanted to help advance this, but wasn’t sure where to apply my time and interest as everything seemed to be either a dash for short-term cash or far too idealistic and futuristic to have an impact anytime soon.

When I heard the Hyperledger announcement in December of 2015, I immediately contacted Jim Zemlin, head of the Linux Foundation, to learn more.  I attended a hackathon in the background to learn more about the intent and code, and really just to watch the community work. The focus on open source software as the key to interoperability and impact and uplifting the whole sector at once strongly resonated with me.  After that, I felt strongly I had to be directly involved in one way or another, so I applied for the role of executive director. Since then, every day we see new ways this technology can be used to not just solve real business problems but bend the systems of the world towards more decentralized, auditable, and fair technology platforms.

With projects like Hyperledger Indy, I could see a revolution happening in personal digital empowerment, security, and privacy pivots.

I guess my personal dystopia worth fighting against was never so much “1984” or “Blade Runner” but instead the movie “Brazil,” a 1985 Terry Gilliam movie about a techno-bureaucracy run amok, where the slightest “bug” in the system can lead to tragedy and inhumanity. Blockchain technology may not save us entirely, but it’s a new kind of tool for that fight.

JAXenter: Smart contracts are one of the most important application areas of blockchain – but we’ve just scratched the surface, the potential is far from exhausted. In your opinion, which are the most exciting areas for blockchain technologies?

Brian Behlendorf: I think supply chains in food, luxury goods, and pharma are among those most ready for reinvention using blockchain tech. There are also a large number of use cases in the healthcare sector, from provider directories to claims processing to EHR, that would benefit significantly from blockchain technologies, and companies are actively working on such applications.

My personal hope is that we find ways to reinvent government services through blockchain tech, from land titles and other sorts of registration and permit systems, to identity systems, to even voting systems. With projects like Hyperledger Indy, I could see a revolution happening in personal digital empowerment, security, and privacy pivots. The world may soon shift away from institutions granting identities on terms they control to a paradigm where people create their own identities with lower cost and greater freedom and confidence, and that is very exciting.

SEE ALSO: “You could think of Hyperledger Fabric kind of like an Apache Web Server”

JAXenter: What is currently happening in the various Hyperledger projects? What projects are going to reach 1.0 and what’s the direction of the ones that already reached this milestone like Fabric, for example?

Brian Behlendorf: Hyperledger Fabric hit 1.0 in the summer of 2017 and Sawtooth was not far behind hitting 1.0 in early 2018. Both projects have gained significant traction, and we’re now seeing many production systems deployed on each – in fact, we hear about new ones several times a month!

Fabric is approaching version 1.3 already but added some pretty significant features in 1.2 including Private Data Collections, which is very important especially for enterprise blockchains. It’s a way to keep certain data/transactions confidential among a subset of channel members. Sawtooth is approaching a 1.1 release, hopefully in the next month or so. Hyperledger Burrow recently announced version 0.21.0. which improved integration and the overall developer experience.

In short, they integrated a number of abstractions with the goal of making it even easier for developers looking to leverage the EVM in a permissioned context to get started with the important aspect of building any blockchain-for-business use case: namely the business logic encoded in the smart contract layer. Then there’s Hyperledger Iroha, which may hit its 1.0 milestone later this year. Finally, Hyperledger Indy’s codebases are steadily adding features and supported platforms. The community is growing, with many PoCs and pilots underway. The framework has taken major strides in terms of adoption for decentralized identity use cases like the Government of British Columbia.

Thank you!