Tuesday, October 4, 2016

JPMorgan is Quietly Developing a Private Ethereum Blockchain


Wall Street mega-bank JPMorgan has co-developed a private, permissioned version of the ethereum network.

The project, presented during a meeting of the Hyperledger technical steering committee last month, was recently demonstrated during the Sibos convention in Geneva. But while the bank avoided the headline-grabbing announcements of its peers like Bank of America and UBS last week, this doesn't mean it is shying away from discussing its work.

Called Quorum, the platform was developed in partnership with ethereum startup EthLab, and it is one of the first projects to come out of a working group within the bank known as the Blockchain Center of Excellence.

Amber Baldet, program lead for the division, explained that JPMorgan is now looking to open source its blockchain technology work in order to get more developers involved.

Baldet told CoinDesk:

"One of our goals in working with an open-source platform and contributing our work back is to encourage collaboration and innovation. The more people that get involved, the faster we will see adoption challenges addressed and the more robust the system will become."

In tandem with the development of Quorum, Baldet said JPMorgan created a software development kit (SDK) aimed at encouraging developers to create applications.

Baldet went on to describe the project as "an additional choice" in the company's toolkit of software offerings aimed at solving business problems.

Notably, Quorum is the second major blockchain-inspired offering to come out of the JPMorgan's technology labs. Earlier this year, the bank showcased Juno, a project it called a "distributed crypto-ledger" that was designed to enable quick value transfers between network parties.

The developers behind Juno departed the bank earlier this year to form their own startup, Quartz reported in July.

Inside Quorum

According to JPMorgan, the project was developed following discussions during the first ethereum developer conference (Devcon1) in 2015.

"While speaking with Jeff Wilcke of EthLab there, we recognized that there was a potential overlap between his goal to build a voting-based consensus mechanism to replace proof-of-work, and our goal to build a high-speed, permissioned ledger," Baldet explained.

Quorum, JPMorgan

According to Wilcke, the system itself has several elements, involving teams on both the JPMorgan and EthLab side.

EthLab manages development on the consensus rules and core changes to the code itself, whereas JPMorgan acts to sign the private messages broadcast across the network.

Wilcke explained:

"The JPMorgan chain requires special rules that will allow private transactions, ie there's a separation between public and private contracts. [Public transactions] can be seen by anyone and [private transactions] can only be seen by parties that have access to a key belonging to that particular party."

Wilcke suggested that the work could have some impact on the future of the ethereum network – potentially foreshadowing the intersection of public and private chains – but indicated stopped short of any broad predictions.

"Time will tell," he added.

Next steps

From here, the project will see further iteration following feedback from both participants and industry stakeholders.

Baldet said that JPMorgan has no plans to monetize the work, but rather intends for the project to act as a vehicle for connecting with developers in the open-source community.

"While our current applications using Quorum function within JPMorgan, releasing the software is an important stepping stone to launching projects with other organizations," Baldet said.

Baldet also went on to suggest that the project could serve as a first step toward building a system that could connect private institutions via distributed networks.

She concluded:

"While we expect some convergence around a few key 'enterprise-grade' platforms, interoperability will be next year's buzzword."

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