Blockchain Explained

Choose your blockchain consortium and know your peers

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I have been working on IBM Blockchain for two years and have spoken to numerous clients, all with unique and interesting ideas on potential use cases. Early on I had a team do a study on use-case viability, and we determined that there are four key ingredients to a successful blockchain network: a transactional process built around an asset, network effect – that is, as the network grows its value grows, having a consortium owner and lastly, like all good technologies, having a positive business case.

I continue to see evidence from our client engagements to support these findings. Based on my working with clients I have decided to start blogging about what I think are some of the practical items you need to think about when it comes to building and deploying The Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger network. So I am starting with the consortium owner, and some guidance on who should be the members and who should be the users in that network.

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Hyperledger is for business networks. Your business case and your supporting architecture (as you will discover) have to factor into who members are, and what the value of the network is to them. The Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Fabric, the software implementation of blockchain IBM is committed to, is a permissioned network. Members are known. Thus, deciding who should be a member is critical to how the Hyperledger network will be run. If you add on too many members early on, the network will be unruly. Add on too few and the network will be unappealing.

The best way to look at this problem is to understand the types of users and their roles:

  • The consortium owner: This is the organization with the vision for the network, its business benefits and how it will disrupt how business is done. Today, for practical purposes, it is best if there is only one consortium owner, since that entity will be responsible for making the network work. As the old adage goes, “To many cooks spoil the broth.”
  • Members: They are part of the Hyperledger network. They have a peer, which means they can store data, execute chain code (smart contracts), and participate in the consensus process (if the consortium owner allows it). Members bring substance and validity to the network, and it is their data and intelligence that is shared. As the network matures, members can move up in status to become consortium owners.
  • General users: These are users of the network and they are sponsored and enabled by the consortium owner and the members. They can access and input data, but they do not own data. As with members, as the network matures, general users can become members if they bring value to the network.

If you’re starting with a Hyperledger network, it is very important to group your participants into these three segments. Start with a single consortium owner and a small set (between 5 and 50) of members. Think big, but start small.

Be sure to read my original article Blockchain: Who should be in your consortium and part two Blockchain: How you should organize your peers.

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Infrastructure Architect and Distinguished Engineer, IBM Client Centers, IBM Systems

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