Speaking at the Hyperledger Global Forum 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona on March 3, Walmart’s director of software engineering for blockchain platforms, Archana Sristy, briefly discussed why the company joined Hyperledger. During a panel entitled “Blockchain in Action: The Latest in Production Deployments,” Sristy said:
“One of the reasons we are now a member of Hyperledger is to show the open-source community the importance of interoperability. It’s presumptive to think that everyone will be on the same blockchain network and will use the same framework. We have developers at Walmart participating in the open-source community and we look forward to more participation moving forward.”
Sristy also called decentralization the true spirit of blockchain:
“In the true spirit of decentralization, blockchain must be articulated in a way that keeps it open for other parties to join seamlessly. Networks need to be open and inviting. We also need to educate our partners on what blockchain is and what it isn’t and how it can break down barriers facing data.”
Hyperledger’s executive director, Brian Behelendorf, told Cointelegraph that Hyperledger has about 250 members total to date. Hyperledger is an open-source collaborative effort created to advance cross-industry blockchain technologies.
He further explained that all Hyperledger members join partly to see the open-source community continue to succeed. He said:
“On the open-source side of things, anyone can use the code, anyone can be involved in any technology projects. Almost all value that we create goes out to the public free of charge.”
Distinguishing between open source and an open culture
While Hyperledger offers enterprise-grade, open-source distributed ledger frameworks, most of Hyperledger’s distributed ledgers are private, permissioned networks.
Hyperledger Fabric, for example, is a private, permissioned blockchain network used by IBM Blockchain to power platforms like IBM’s Food Trust Network. Hyperledger Fabric is also an active, open-source Hyperledger project, meaning all the source code is publicly available of Gittub or Gerrit.
According to Behlendorf, Hyperledger supports an open community that values participation from various entities. However, he explained that permissioned blockchain networks are a starting point for enterprises applying the technology. He said:
“The Internet didn’t launch as a big, public network on day one and it wasn’t completely decentralized either. For a lot of people, blockchain networks that are permissioned act as a starting point and a way of containing risks of what might go wrong when using blockchain.”
General manager of Honeywell’s GoDirect Trade, Lisa Butters, told Cointelegraph that a permission-based blockchain is important for enterprises because of data sharing. She said:
“GoDirect Trade runs on Hyperledger Fabric. If anyone argues about the fact that this is a permission-based network that is supposed to be decentralized then they are killing the dream of enterprise blockchain before it starts. There is no way you will get Fortune 500 companies participating in blockchain networks and sharing data if there are not permissioned around that. You need some constraints for enterprises to operate in.”
While some may argue that private blockchains are not as “open” as public networks, the fact that Hyperledger is an open-source collaborative effort demonstrates the platform’s community values.
O’Reilly author and former Apple web developer, Anne Ahola Ward, told Cointelegraph that “whether a blockchain is characterized as public or private doesn't matter as much as what's in the codebase.”
Behlendorf further elaborated on this point, noting that open-source software is often used for private purposes. He said:
"Think about every Linux box serving duty inside an enterprise, or the email systems used to send mail privately from one person to another, all either directly or typically based on Open Source code. Seeing it used for both permissionless and permissioned ledgers is not just unsurprising, it's cause for excitement, because it means a larger pool of users to draw from and companies that can provide support and services. Hyperledger's code and community take that a step further — not only is the code published under an Open Source license, it's built publicly with developers from many different companies, ensuring a resilience you don't get from a single-vendor solution, no matter how it's licensed."
What’s next for Walmart and other enterprises using Hyperledger?
Following her thoughts on the importance of open source, Sristy noted that Walmart will be adding more commodities to IBM’s Food Trust Network, a blockchain-based food traceability platform powered by Hyperledger Fabric. Walmart was one of the earliest members to join the Food Trust Network and sits on the platform’s governance council.
Sristy also mentioned that Walmart will be conducting more pilots with pharmaceutical companies and will look into eventually using blockchain for global trade.
Butters from GoDirect Trade told Cointelegraph that Honeywell plans to use blockchain next to help solve the problem of calculating greenhouse gas usage. She said:
“At Honeywell, we are trying to get to a basic sense of how to connect utility companies to a blockchain ledger to figure out what their greenhouse gas consumption is.”
Butters mentioned during the “Forbes 50 Roundtable” panel that Honeywell is looking towards working with a utility company in Phoenix, Arizona to kick start this initiative.
American Express’s vice president of blockchain technology Michael Concannon also explained that the company’s goal moving forward is to have a decentralized supply chain. The company uses Hyperledger Fabric and is a member of Hyperledger.
Concannon said during the “Blockchain in Action: The Latest in Production Deployments,” panel that American Express hopes to play the role of a settlement payment provider moving forward.