The New Jedi Order

History will remember this week as the week the Star Wars series rebooted, with the release of the Force Awakens. I will also remember it as the week our industry got serious about Blockchain for business.

The Linux Foundation announced a new collaborative effort to advance the popular Blockchain technology. Early members were named who make up the formation committee of the Open Ledger Project, including:

Accenture, ANZ Bank, Cisco, CLS, Credits, Deutsche Börse, Digital Asset Holdings (DAH), DTCC, Fujitsu, IC3, IBM, Intel, J.P. Morgan, London Stock Exchange Group, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG), R3, State Street, SWIFT, VMware and Wells Fargo.

This team will work with the Linux Foundation to define how the project is governed. The Open Ledger Project is about using a lean startup approach to build a Blockchain fabric that is suitable for cross industry business applications. The foundation has been jump started by IBM and DAH, who both contributed significant pieces of code. R3 is contributing a new financial transaction architectural framework.

Blockchain is big. Blockchain is a digital technology for recording and verifying transactions. It has demonstrated the ability to radically reduce the time it takes to settle a multi-party transaction, while at the same time being resistant to tampering. Blockchain technology, and the new business processes written on it, will certainly transform industries, reimagining stagnant approaches to supply chain, trade settlement or any applications where value is exchanged.

A New Style Light Saber

IBM is all-in with this open approach to blockchain, and is contributing tens of thousands of lines of code written over the past 6 months by IBM Researchers and Developers across Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, Almaden, California, Zurich, Switzerland, as well as our labs in Bangalore and Delhi.

The code-base being contributed by IBM, which we refer to as OBC (open block chain), is built frm the ground up with business use-cases in mind. IBM is also contributing a set of patents, which are embodied in the contributed code. We’re developing the code in golang, which is proving to be an effective way to write this highly distributed system. Our purpose in contributing OBC is to provide a starting point, not a destination, with a plan to journey to our destination as a community.

OBC is differentiated from other blockchain technology by explicitly supporting business uses-cases that are:

Permissioned – With OBC, a blockchain can be set up with permissions and roles, enabling business policies to be enforced which dictate how the chain is governed. This flexibility can enable members to be completely private, completely public, or something in between. Permission can be given to members to submit transactions, validate transactions, run business logic and decrypt data.

Secured – OBC respects the privacy and confidentiality of members, while enabling auditing and compliance. It supports a patented approach to ensure users of the network cannot snoop on one other, unless they are given permission to do so (i.e., and auditor or regulator). Given it is very easy to spin up new blockchains, counterparties can also quickly spin out new permissioned blockchains for more confidential interactions.

Extensible – OBC introduces the notion of chaincode as a means to write business logic that issues transactions and manipulates data within a blockchain. Chaincode is currently written in golang and runs in secured Docker containers. We hope the community will further extend chaincode to support logic written in Java, Javascript and other languages. Chaincode provides a foundation for smart contract languages written in higher level, domain specific languages.

Modular – OBC is designed to enable key system aspects to be replaced, including consensus algorithms, data storage and identity management. For example, OBC currently offers two implementations of PBFT (Practical Byzantine Fault Tolerant) consensus, as a means to validate transactions across the blockchain network. We also have other points of extensibility including identity management and cryptography algorithms.

Optimized – The modularity of OBC makes optimization possible. At IBM, we have already started experimenting with using special hardware in our Z and Power platforms to improve performance of cryptographic key generation and signing. We fully expect other community members to exploit their special software and hardware optimization for throughput, response time and system scale.

The Jedi High Council

I cannot say enough good things about the Linux Foundation. When it comes to open governance, the LF is the gold standard. They are both credible and efficient. The formation committee has a cast of “do-ers”. We are excited to be working with all of them.

I would like to specifically call out Digital Assets Holding, who is contributing their HyperLedger open source code (and rights to the brand name) to the Project. Our collaborations with DAH have been centered on our common view of a permissioned blockchain, PBFT consensus and the principle of “keeping it simple”. DAH brings a great deal of credibility in the financial applications space. It’s great to have them on board.

Also want to thank R3 for their generous contribution of their financial transaction architectural framework and breadth of knowledge regarding banking use-cases.

Intel has some very progressive views of how their hardware can help scale and optimize blockchain networks of all sorts. We are lucky to have multiple high class technology vendors on the formation team.

Using the Force

The Open Ledger Project is the start. Our plan is to utilize the software produced by the Project in IBM offerings to follow in 2016. Let me tease you with a little of what I’m thinking about.

We have started to stand-up our OBC code on Bluemix, integrating it with the Bluemix DevOps service. Bluemix is a natural place for developers to build full-featured blockchain applications, integrating with the hundreds of services already on Bluemix, including Watson, Mobile, Analytics and Hybrid Connectivity to your enterprise.

Beyond the developer, we see opportunity to provide offerings to assist blockchain network proprietors and operators, from blockchain node provisioning to identify and security services.

Last, with blockchain, we have the opportunity to re-imagine many of the world’s business processes. Many of which were created 30-40 years ago. Blockchain can dramatically reduce cost and latency for settling transactions in use-cases across all industries. We hope to provide frameworks to enables and accelerate the development of these processes, as services, atop the IBM cloud.

Together with the Linux Foundation and our industry collaborators, we’re making it easy to re-imagine the world implemented on a blockchain. As you can see, with the announcement of the Open Ledger Project, the Force of Blockchain has Awoke. Now we need your help! Join us and help use the force of this project to destroy massive inefficiencies that cast a dark cloud over all industries… and I will get right to that, once I see the new Star Wars movie this weekend 😉

Also see… Arvind Krishna’s blog

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