In its first year, the Hyperledger Project has grown to 100 participating members, as more companies sign on to explore the commercial uses of the blockchain distributed data store technology.

For one, IntellectEU, a Brussels-based startup has been involved with various “flavors” of the technology for about two years, according to Hanna Zubko, co-founder and vice president of business development. It’s focused on integration in the financial services industry and on building applications on top of the blockchain.

“IntellectEU has used Hyperledger primarily for proof of concept, but now we are preparing various use cases for production. The technology is still early days, so we’re very realistic and feet on the ground about it. At the same time, this project has the potential to become the de facto use of blockchain for business,” said Zubko.

It was one of the project’s founding members and was named among the “ecosystem” of 12 collaborating companies that IBM announced for Hyperledger Fabric, one of four “streams” within the Hyperledger larger project, a multi-company effort to implement blockchains for commercial use.

“When you look back at the beginning of the year, there were a lot of folks kicking the tires and imaging the art of the possible. When you look at this ecosystem … This has gone beyond the conceptual stage and they’re doing real stuff,” said Jerry Cuomo, IBM vice president of blockchain technologies, of the New York meetup. “There’s a real energy around it.”

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The ecosystem means there’s an exchange of information about use cases, training and input toward better versions of the fabric, IntellectEU’s co-founder Dirk Avau said.

Financial services companies are intensely interested in the technology, seen as holding great potential to improve security, but are still exploring the best ways to use it. Now regulators also are waking up to the technology and joining efforts to better understand it, Avau said.

“The push comes out of the field — banks, regulators, central banks — are becoming interested and starting to evaluate. It’s not going to disrupt us, but give us better opportunities than before,” he said.

One Chinese company has announced it has a commercial product available.

Hyperledger story

The Linux Foundation created the Hyperledger Project late last year to make blockchain usable for businesses. There are several other projects that may take a different focus.

A host of Fortune 500 companies quickly hopped on board, including Accenture, Cisco, Fujitsu, IBM, Intel, J.P. Morgan, London Stock Exchange Group, VMware, and Wells Fargo.

The project has four initial “streams”: Blockchain Explorer, to create a user-friendly web application to view and query blocks, transactions and associated data; Fabric, using the original 44,000 lines of code contributed from IBM to create modular components for developing blockchain applications or solutions; Iroha, which is focused on mobile application development; and Sawtooth Lake, led by Intel, involving a consensus algorithm that targets large distributed validator populations with minimal resource consumption.

IBM contributed 44,000 lines of code that forms the basis of the Hyperledger project. It originally was the sole contributor and maintainer of that code, but now represents only 50 percent of contributors to the project, Cuomo said. He calls Fabric the “most vibrant community from a growth perspective.”

The company maintains its commercial offerings of the technology as part of its Bluemix platform, and earlier this year, stood up the first production network of the Hyperledger Fabric.

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IBM also is focused on making being the “go-to” source with blockchain training and developer tools.

Hyperledger is focused on the needs of business, such as regulatory compliance: data protection, data visibility, auditing and more. Fabric is focused on making the technology easy and consumable for developers and looking at impediments to adoption, such as security gaps, Cuomo said.

Of Bitcoin Fame

The distributed ledger technology involves a large-scale distributed database with a continuously growing set of records called blocks that are timestamped and cannot be changed retroactively. It’s best known as the basis for the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.

In a supply chain, for instance, the record of each transaction along the way is recorded and immutable, providing a complete, auditable trail from beginning to end.

It’s designed to be secure even if one or more of the nodes running it are compromised.

No single entity controls the blockchain; it’s governed by consensus. Blockchains can be shared publicly or only among a select group.

Bitcoin and Ethereum, for instance, allow anyone to join. Other projects, such as Hyperledger, MultiChain, and Eris, require permission.

“A blockchain is a peer-to-peer distributed ledger forged by consensus, combined with a system for “smart contracts” and other assistive technologies. Together these can be used to build a new generation of transactional applications that establish trust, accountability and transparency at their core, while streamlining business processes and legal constraints,” the project website states. Smart contracts are code that automates the “if this happens, then do that” part of traditional contracts.

“Think of [blockchain] as an operating system for marketplaces, data-sharing networks, micro-currencies, and decentralized digital communities. It has the potential to vastly reduce the cost and complexity of getting things done in the real world,” it says.

“Hyperledger’s focus has always been on the development of core blockchain technologies such as Hyperledger Fabric and other products built by the community.  To get this technology out there and used in the world, we expect our member companies and others to build products and services around these technologies,” the project’s executive director Brian Behlendorf told InApps of IBM’s ecosystem announcement.

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“A value-added marketplace ecosystem like this makes sense, and is something other platform companies may want to consider setting up as well.”

The blockchain trade association, the Chamber of Digital Commerce, and the Hyperledger Project also recently announced they’re teaming up on industry advocacy and education efforts.

The bank consortium R3 also recently revealed plans to contribute Corda, its distributed-ledger platform for managing financial agreements between regulated financial institutions, to the Hyperledger Project.

While Avau says “100 percent” of financial services and insurance companies have been active in this space for 12 to 18 months, at least studying the options, they don’t necessarily agree on the path forward.

Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Spain’s Banco Santander SA have dropped out of the R3 blockchain project. Santander and Goldman Sachs have invested in Digital Asset Holdings, a startup that supports Hyperledger. It has pledged to open source its smart contract modeling language.

IBM is a sponsor of InApps.