EEA’s Mainnet Initiative Bridges Permissioned and Public Blockchains
Last week, the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA) announced the launch of the Mainnet Initiative, which aims to accelerate collaboration between enterprises and the Ethereum community working on the public mainnet. The initiative will be led by a technical working group and will provide a channel for mainnet R&D teams to learn more about enterprise needs and give enterprises the chance to influence mainnet development. With recent advances in Ethereum permissioning and increasing interest in system integration, the working group signals another major step forward in fostering technical alignment and collaboration between enterprise blockchain networks and the Ethereum mainnet community.
“The rapid acceleration of technology innovation around the Ethereum mainnet is changing how consumer-facing industries will deliver value through peer-to-peer transactions and services.”
Beyond the Spec: Aligning the Ethereum Ecosystem
Collaboration and technical alignment is key to increase blockchain adoption. Until the formation of the Mainnet Initiative, enterprises interested in mainnet interaction and development haven’t had a formal space to collaborate on a technical roadmap. The Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, whose Technical Specification Working Group recently released V3 of a client specification to facilitate adoption of Enterprise Ethereum, is hoping the Mainnet Initiative will clear a path for enterprises to directly interact and influence those who are deeply involved in developing the next generation of the Ethereum mainnet.
Joseph Lubin, a co-founder of Ethereum, founder of ConsenSys, and board member of the EEA sees the Initiative as another milestone on the road to interoperability: “In the past year, we have seen the great acceleration of interest in and adoption of Ethereum technology by the enterprise. Notably, there have been tangible and committed efforts to use Ethereum mainnet by the enterprise and to build infrastructure for mainnet that will also serve many business use cases for the long-term. Major organizations from the big four and from big tech to pharma, major financial service companies, central banks, and large energy companies are all turning significant attention to Ethereum.”
The Opportunity in Mainnet Interoperability
Over the past five years, the Ethereum mainnet has been pushed forward by a vibrant, talented, and massive community. Since its inception, the mainnet has processed over 500 million transactions, over 130 million transactions in 2019 alone. Network utilization has remained fairly stable at an average of just under 90%. Over 70 million unique addresses exist on Ethereum, 16 million of which have been created since the beginning of the year. In addition, Ethereum’s development community is estimated to be 30x larger than the next blockchain community and it’s the fastest growing — the number of core Ethereum developers has grown more than 20% between 2018 and 2019.
With that being said, mainnet development can’t exist in isolation from the current business world. As the Ethereum ecosystem aims to revolutionize many business processes across industries and integrate complex networks, the mainnet community should strive to be inclusive and collaborate with as many relevant stakeholders as possible. It won’t happen overnight, but gaining the trust and inspiring those who manage many of the business processes of today will bring the legacy enterprise world closer to participating in increasingly distributed yet secure global networks.
Businesses, governments, and leading organizations are beginning to recognize the Ethereum mainnet as an opportunity. This renewed interest has come with the emergence of techniques that take advantage of the mainnet’s unique capabilities without exposing private business information or confidential business logic to the public or to unauthorized parties. Last month, CapBridge Group, in partnership with ConsenSys, launched 1exchange, the world’s first private securities exchange on the Ethereum mainnet. The exchange is licensed and regulated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore and gives companies a secure option for listing private equities to access global liquidity, without the high costs of conventional exits such as an IPO and M&A.
Many enterprise blockchain experts anticipate that permissioned blockchain networks’ access to the mainnet will be analogous to an intranet’s access to the Internet today, in which users behind security firewalls still have access to all or select parts of the Internet. In the case of blockchain, enterprise networks would have access to the Ethereum mainnet via a bridge, with the ability to pick and choose which networks, nodes, and accounts to interact with on the main chain. Permissioned network interoperability with the Ethereum mainnet would allow data storage across the blockchain and private cloud with customizable privacy and scalability. Connecting to the mainnet also allows compatibility with and access to:
- other open source or business blockchain networks
- wider markets and users
- data or governance logic
- thousands of dapps
Privacy, Permissioning, and Mainnet Compatibility
Real-world implementations of mainnet-compatible enterprise blockchains are just around the corner, and the tools are already here. For example, Pantheon is an Ethereum client that can create private and permissioned enterprise blockchain consortiums that are mainnet compatible. Pantheon is already in use by Liquidshare, a 9-member consortium including BNP Paribas and Société Générale for post-trade settlement in equities markets. According to Thibaud de Maintenant, CEO of LiquidShare, “The collaboration with PegaSys shows the power of Pantheon, its enterprise features, and the growing interest in using an Enterprise Ethereum built for mainnet compatibility.”
By launching the Enterprise Mainnet Initiative, the EEA hopes to open up a door to thousands of users and business processes that are a natural fit for larger, more decentralized networks. Enterprises and governments that may have looked at the mainnet as a black box can now have a firsthand look into the development process behind the public Ethereum blockchain. A major part of working group’s charter will be producing high-quality technical documentation, promoting EIPs (Ethereum Improvement Proposals) that are related to enterprise needs, and developing the technical specifications that will enable enterprise systems to interact more deeply with the mainnet.
What’s Next for the Mainnet Initiative
To deliver on its promise, Web3 must have a fully decentralized network at its core. As of today, the most expansive and robust network that could serve as a maximally decentralized blockchain settlement layer is the Ethereum mainnet. The Ethereum community is currently invested in the next version of the mainnet — Eth 2.0 — which is an ecosystem-wide effort to ensure mainnet can support thousands of transactions per second and utilize a more energy-efficient consensus mechanism. The new developments are expected to roll out in three main phases, starting in early 2020.
Eth 2.0 may do for mainnet what Google search has done for the Internet, in terms of scaling a seamless, flexible, and developer-friendly platform. That makes it all the more important for the the Ethereum community to involve a diverse set of stakeholder needs in the process. Otherwise the Web3 effort could devolve into a fragmented blockchain world of proprietary networks that miss out on the opportunity of efficient, shared IT infrastructure and layered privacy.
In his recent article “Safety Without Silos: Why Businesses Will Learn to Love Public Ethereum,” John Wolpert, formerly the global product executive for IBM blockchain and now at ConsenSys, recognizes the importance of fine-tuned controls on mainnet that will allow enterprises to achieve security and privacy:
“In the end, what makes sense is letting each party manage their own private systems with their own private data, running their own protected functions — but integrating them in such a way that allows them to coordinate where appropriate, quickly track down problems, and ensure everyone is playing by the rules.”
Once the EEA Mainnet working group officially kicks off, the Ethereum ecosystem will have a proper forum to connect the mainnet and enterprise worlds. Working group leaders will come from the Ethereum community as well as from the enterprise world. The Initiative needs participants who understand business needs, as well as the Web3 technology stack. The goal is not to adjust mainnet development to specific business or sector needs, but to enable any company evaluating blockchain use cases to consider the Ethereum mainnet as an inseparable and indispensable part of their solution.