After a couple of years of speculation, Blockchain and cryptotechnology finally received substantial mainstream attention in 2017
Governments got on board, ICOs progressed at a breakneck speed, and the market cap of the entire industry skyrocketed accordingly. The keyword now driving many discussions in the domain is “mainstream adoption”, with investors, blockchain entrepreneurs, and mainstream tech companies trying to predict where the market is going to go.
It is an important time for the industry, since first-mover advantage is likely to set the scene for blockchain platform selection in the next 10 years. Just as how Microsoft staked their claim to a massive user base with Windows, or how Google has amassed a fortune off the popularity of its search engine, the blockchain solutions that get the first foot in the door of the new tech ecosystem will be set up for future dominance.
However, it is anyone’s guess how this will shake out. The industry now is quite frankly a mess, with tech incumbents slow to get up to speed while the blockchain-native projects are beset by controversy and uncertainty as well as a seemingly never-ending proliferation of new competitors holding ICOs every week. Here we will briefly outline the major platforms and protocols in the oncoming scrap to be the king of the blockchain jungle.
The crypto-native heavyweights: Ethereum, Ripple, Stellar, Hyperledger, (R3) Corda and others
Given the seemingly endless applications of blockchain technology, there is a broad and blurry bracket of crypto protocols offering similar solutions. These can range from smart contract development in the case of Ethereum, blockchain architecture in the case of Hyperledger, or Ripple as a payment protocol. Here we’ll sketch out what each does.
Ethereum has usurped Bitcoin in many ways as the flagship of the crypto industry. Ethereum uses protocols and a blockchain to enable users to create complex transactions and smart contracts, using a Virtual Machine to automate in a transparent and decentralised way much of what is run on proprietary servers now. With the launch of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, the world’s largest open source blockchain initiative, Ethereum is pulling ahead of the pack in the enterprise-friendly stakes.
One of the most notably successful platforms of late, Ripple have developed a cryptographic protocol to enable superfast settling of financial transactions cross-border. It is in many ways a halfway house between crypto and fiat, using cryptographic protocols to enable international fast fiat money transfers. On the 13th of April Bank Santander release an app for money transfer which uses the Ripple protocol, and the platform allows third-party developers to use their open source framework and blockchain to integrate fast payments in their solutions.
The Ripple platform also includes a token (XRP), which doesn’t actually have to be used in Ripple protocol based apps.
The Stellar protocol grew out of Ripple, and is run by the Stellar Foundation. It is primarily targetting international value transfers like Ripple does, except it is more focussed on transfers using its own token and allowing third parties to process payments quickly and cheaply. Early users being targetted are non-profits, third world organisations, and ecommerce. One interesting thing about the platform is IBM’s involvement, and it seems IBM will lean on Stellar for a lot of its blockchain solutions in the future.
The Hyperledger project created by the Linux Foundation is focussed more on the building blocks (so to speak) of ledger technology. Companies intending to create their own crypto solutions or private blockchains can utilise the Hyperledger protocol and open source stack as tools. Intel are a notable partner, having developed the Hyperledger Sawtooth protocol to help speed up blockchain transactions.
Created by R3 (a consortium of major financial institutions), Corda aims to provide a range of business-ready blockchain solutions mainly focussed on financial transactions but also applicable to supply-chain transparency and securities.
Tech companies getting in on the action
Notable in their absence, Google has not had much involvement in blockchain, nor has Facebook. While some skeptics consider this a negative sign for blockchain technology, others would say that the transparent nature of blockchain is not in the best interests of these companies. Regardless, there are some tech incumbents weighing into the domain.
Meanwhile, Microsoft are ramping up for the release of their Coco Framework on Azure platform which has garnered a lot of positive press for be leveraging existing blockchain-focused consensus mechanisms and ticking all the control boxes enterprises require. Just after it was announced last year, Azure CTO Mark Russinovich spoke to TechNative about the move.
#Microsoft #Azure CTO Mark Russinovich spoke to us about how their #CocoFramework will make #blockchain enterprise-ready with enhanced performance, confidentiality, governance. #TechNativeTV #Ethereum #Corda pic.twitter.com/jvStyMgxVH
— TechNative (@TechNative) December 27, 2017
While they haven’t had much involvement, Amazon are working to make blockchain solutions like those mentioned above (especially Corda and Sawtooth) work seamlessly with AWS – unsurprisingly directly positioned against Microsoft’s Coco.
The bottom line: Anyone’s game
While individual businesses have a broad range of options open to them for developing blockchain and ledger solutions, we are really in the early stages of this domain where there is little head to head offerings or clearly defined markets. It will be interesting to see if established companies gain more traction with ledger technology or if the crypto native platforms hold their market share in this nascent industry.