As a research lead in VMware’s R&D Center in Beijing, my primary role is to incubate new solutions based on emerging technologies. One of the technologies we’re interested in presently is blockchain, which we believe has great potential to solve existing business problems in powerful new ways. In our research, my group has been looking at blockchain from an open source perspective, and in doing so, we’ve come to understand how blockchain and open source methodologies fit well together.
Firstly, blockchain as a concept promotes the decentralization of system governance – anyone can run a node on a specific blockchain network and all nodes will work collaboratively with each other to ensure its function. This requires trust, and one way to maximize trust is to extend your decentralization to the creation and management of the code that runs the system. It’s why most of the best-known blockchain technologies, like the Bitcoin and Etherium currencies, are open source. It’s also the main reason why our group has chosen to explore blockchain from an open source perspective.
An open source approach is also helpful simply because blockchain is such a new technology. It allows us to build a community of developers much more quickly than we otherwise could, where all of us are working toward the same goals. This helps us grow our blockchain projects faster, too.
The other major connection has to do with our specific aim of developing blockchain solutions for enterprise problems. Enterprises are intrigued by blockchain’s potential to offer greater efficiencies, thus enabling new kinds of business models. At the same time, they are aware that the technology remains immature at present, so they aren’t willing to heavily invest in it as of yet. It makes sense, then, at this stage, for enterprise teams interested in blockchain to work cooperatively across the larger community and build early enterprise-facing blockchain solutions within an open source framework. This will allow them to still get their feet wet and embrace a technology that’s set to become even more important within the next decade.
These connections between blockchain and open source helped direct our group to make one of its first major efforts in blockchain development by contributing to an open source project: Hyperledger.
Hyperledger, founded in 2016 and currently run under the Linux Foundation, aims to advance the business use of blockchain technologies. At present, it is the most advanced solution available for enterprise blockchain, although there’s still work to be done to make it ready for production use cases.
VMware was one of the Hyperledger project’s 30 founding members—the project has since expanded to over 200. We are also contributing to one of the project’s core channels, Cello, adding new features that can help people run blockchain on top of VMware cloud technology like vSphere. Cello aims to provide “blockchain-as-a-service,” or BaaS, allowing people to run blockchain in the cloud rather than their own blockchain system running within their own private data center.
We are also participating in the Cloud Native Computing Foundation’s BaaS open source efforts by developing a solution that integrates Kubernetes with Hyperledger, allowing developers to run a Hyperledger fabric on top of a Kubernetes-managed cloud. So not only are we developing with and contributing to open source projects, we are also leveraging and integrating with other open source projects where it helps us move blockchain technologies forward.
Ours isn’t the only group at VMware exploring blockchain’s potential for tackling enterprise problems, and many of our colleagues’ efforts are not using an open source lens. But blockchain and open source have enough in common that it’s important to explore how they can work in tandem to speed the advent of mature commercial blockchain technologies for real and lasting impact.