2017: When Ethereum Will Go From IT to Enterprise

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Enterprise use of blockchain technology has evolved at an almost unfathomable rate over the past 24 months.

From early bitcoin experiments, to senior bankers joining startups, to the launch of the public ethereum decentralized application platform, to the many private, permissioned systems using the technology, blockchain has emerged as one of the top enterprise IT trends entering 2017.

Yet, the market has already moved beyond the incubation phase where innovators effectively build the technology along with their initial applications, and possibly beyond the early adopter phase, too.

Increasingly, mainstream enterprise IT organizations are not only educating themselves and experimenting with blockchain, they are also aiming to tackle novel use cases and complex IT challenges with the technology.

More and more frequently, our clients are asking for assistance building MVPs not PoCs, or hardening environments for production readiness.

With this whirlwind of adoption, it is also clear that certain key technologies are emerging as potential de facto standards as blockchain platforms.

Why IT loves ethereum

Ethereum is, arguably, the most commonly used blockchain technology for enterprise development today.

With more than 20,000 developers globally, the benefits of a public chain holding roughly $1bn of value, not to mention an emerging open-source ecosystem of development tools, it is little wonder that Accenture observed “every self-respecting innovation lab” is running and experimenting with it.

Cloud vendors are also supporting ethereum as a first-class citizen: Alibaba Cloud, Microsoft Azure, RedHat OpenShift, Pivotal CloudFoundry all feature ethereum as one of their, if not their primary, blockchain offering.

Why? The software is widely available and its simple to download an ethereum client; pick your favorite development environment and get going.

Ethereum is general purpose and easy to program – full stack and web developers can pick up the basics of the Solidity smart contract programming language in a matter of hours and develop initial applications in days.

Documentation is plentiful, as are code samples, deployment frameworks and training. Little wonder that so many companies are using ethereum as their blockchain of choice.

Today, enterprises are deploying private ethereum networks in or near production in areas as diverse as supply chain tracking, payments, data privacy, compliance and asset tokenization just to name a few.

Three challenges

Now certainly, we are some time away from seeing investment banks fully migrate securities clearing and settlement to ethereum networks.

That said, however, we already do see private ethereum blockchain networks in production – even in financial services.

Enterprises adopting ethereum face a number of challenges, notably:

  1. Ethereum was developed initially for public chain deployment, where trustless transaction requirements outweigh absolute performance. The current public chain consensus algorithms (notably, proof of work) are overkill for networks with trusted actors and high throughput requirements.
  2. Public chains by definition have limited (at least initially) privacy and permissioning requirements. Although ethereum does enable permissioning to be implemented within the smart contract and network layers, it is not readily compatible ‘out of the box’ with traditional enterprise security and identity architectures, or data privacy requirements.
  3. Naturally, the current Ethereum Improvement Process is largely dominated by public chain matters, and it has been challenging for enterprise IT requirements to be prioritized within it.

As a result, many enterprises who have implemented private ethereum networks have either ‘tweaked’ or forked open-source implementations, or relied on proprietary vendor extensions to meet their requirements.

Some of these are extremely sophisticated and…

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Jeremy Millar began his career as one of the first Java architects at Oracle, and is now the chief instigator at blockchain firm ConsenSys, where he plays a lead in its evolving enterprise strategy. 

In this CoinDesk 2016 in Review special feature, Millar discusses how he believes the community galvanizing around the ethereum blockchain will continue to grow – and gain big business support – in 2017. 


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