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Let's talk bitcoin and building blockchain apps fast with Hyperledger

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If you're thinking about building blockchain apps, you're probably looking for the right tools and technologies. Hyperledger Fabric and Composer just might meet your requirements.

Blockchain technology is not only poised to change the way we develop applications, but it may even have an impact on how distributed, nontechnical teams collaborate as well. But there's an outstanding question, one that open source projects, like Hyperledger Fabric and Hyperledger Composer, hope to address. Is building blockchain apps a path that risk-averse enterprises are willing to walk? Or is the enterprise development community just not ready for blockchain integration?

Is blockchain still all about bitcoin?

At this juncture, the general public's exposure to blockchain technology has primarily been through bitcoin, and bitcoin itself has experienced some serious technical issues.

One commonly discussed bitcoin usability problem is the transaction time of 20 to 30 minutes for a fund deposit to clear. That's a wholly unacceptable speed when, in industries like banking and stock trading, subsecond transaction times are the norm.

We fundamentally believe that the applications of blockchain do go far beyond [bitcoin].
Don ThibeauOffering manager, IBM Blockchain

Another ongoing concern is scalability, a problem tied largely to the unwieldy size of the blockchain itself. With only 100 million wallets in existence -- a number that represents less than one-third of the population of the United States -- the bitcoin ledger is currently over 163 GB in size and growing. Bitcoin isn't exactly a testament to the nonfunctional strengths of blockchain technology. Bitcoin's highly publicized shortcomings make enterprise adopters wonder if building blockchain apps is prudent at all.

"Blockchain was introduced at a mass scale through bitcoin, but we fundamentally believe that the applications of blockchain do go far beyond," said IBM Blockchain Offering Manager Don Thibeau. "Through Hyperledger Fabric, we've really enforced the few core tenants around enabling security, confidentiality and scalability in the use of blockchain."

Building blockchain apps for Hyperledger

Hyperledger Fabric is just one of a variety of different IBM blockchain implementations, with each implementation addressing nonfunctional requirements, like reliability, scalability, performance and security.

Hyperledger Fabric's emphasis on componentization and modularity sets it apart from its contemporaries. With this feature, Hyperledger Fabric can work in a variety of different enterprise use cases. It's made blockchain apps easier for enterprise customers.

"One of our core beliefs and something we've worked with the Hyperledger Fabric community to instill is that the blockchain should be modular," Thibeau said. "I think you'll find, in some other frameworks, people are prescribed specific, rigid architectural models or capabilities. Hyperledger Fabric enables a modular architecture so that it can be tailored for specific business need, as opposed to providing a one-size-fits-all approach."

Of course, simply being enterprise-grade isn't enough to foster widespread adoption. In order for a blockchain technology like Hyperledger Fabric to go mainstream, it needs a complementary set of development tools to go along with it.

"Blockchain technology has the potential to solve some interesting enterprise challenges," said Sal Pece, enterprise architect with Xennial Consulting Inc. "But without a set of tools that facilitate the development and testing of those solutions, we won't see widespread blockchain adoption with enterprise clients. If good tools do emerge, expect the number of blockchain integrations to explode."

Tools for building blockchain apps

According to Thibeau, Hyperledger Composer can provide the tools to make building blockchain apps easier. Hyperledger Composer is a suite of open source tools that streamlines the development of Hyperledger Fabric applications. And not only does Hyperledger Composer help develop blockchain-based apps, but the tools themselves help developers conceptualize and even architect the solution.

"Hyperledger Composer allows a developer to define a blockchain network at the business level, in terms of the assets, participants and the transactions involved," Thibeau said. "And when developers start thinking about blockchain solutions first and foremost in that business context, it makes it easier to realize the value that can be delivered by enabling that network with blockchain."

Blockchain development is new, but it's slowly starting to creep into the market. Clearly, Thibeau is hoping that IBM Blockchain Platform, one which builds heavily upon Hyperledger Fabric and Hyperledger Composer, will make building blockchain apps easer, which, in turn, will increase the velocity of blockchain technology adoption in the enterprise.

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