Blockchain interoperability has been a long-time dream for the Ethereum network, and ConsenSys eyes the latest release to deliver it.
Enterprise blockchain applications are slowly but surely making their way to public networks, especially as new upgrades and features are being implemented into the Ethereum ecosystem. While Eth2 promises to bring scalability, security and capacity across the Ethereum network to advance enterprise use cases, other techniques are being developed to help enterprises properly leverage the Ethereum network.
For example, the Baseline Protocol is a set of techniques using advances in peer-to-peer messaging, zero-knowledge cryptography and blockchain to coordinate complex and confidential workflows between enterprises. While the Baseline Protocol can be leveraged with any blockchain network, it operates well alongside the Ethereum mainnet, which serves as a common frame of reference for traditional systems of record.
In August of this year, bottling giant Coke One North America announced that it would use the Baseline Protocol to synchronize its supply chain data. Since then, other proofs-of-concept have been underway by companies such as SAP, Microsoft Dynamic, Google Sheets and Salesforce.
New features are continually being added to Baseline Protocol to ensure its functionality, and now the Baseline Protocol has published a new key component called the “Commitment Manager,” which is focused on bringing blockchain interoperability to Ethereum clients — that is, nodes that are able to parse and verify the blockchain.
Sam Stokes, software architect at ConsenSys, the blockchain development software company behind Baseline Protocol, told Cointelegraph that the newly released commitment manager is a new microservice that would enable developers to switch between private and public blockchains using different Ethereum clients:
“It provides off-chain and on-chain Merkle tree management functions that are essential within a baseline stack. In order to switch blockchain clients, developers just need to adjust a few environment variables in a configuration file. The service works with all types of Ethereum networks (i.e., private networks, public testnets, and public mainnet).”
Stokes further shared that the new release includes support for Hyperledger Besu, an Ethereum client that can be used on private and public networks, and Infura, which is a development suite that provides access to Ethereum and InterPlanetary File System networks.
This is notable, as the commitment manager component will likely attract more enterprises to the Ethereum mainnet via the Baseline Protocol. “Theoretically this will speed the adoption of Baseline because previously Nethermind was the only Ethereum client to provide this capability,” according to Stokes.
According to Stokes, Nethermind currently serves less than 3% of the total number of Ethereum nodes on the mainnet. The commitment manager ensures that the other 97% of Ethereum users, including those who just use Infura, can participate in Baseline without having to use Nethermind.
ConsenSys CEO Joe Lubin told Cointelegraph he is confident that the Baseline Protocol commitment manager will bring more enterprises to the Ethereum network:
“The Baseline Protocol is a huge leap forward in bringing secure and private business processes of all types to the Ethereum Mainnet. Today’s release of the Baseline Protocol’s Commitment Manager promises even more flexibility to business processes that rely on different instances or clients by adding support to both Hyperledger Besu and Infura.”
Ethereum clients may achieve benefits, but not anytime soon
It’s critical to point out that the benefits promised by Baseline Protocol’s commitment manager only extend to Ethereum clients. With this as a factor, a number of limitations arise.
Tomasz Stanczak, founder and chief technology officer of Nethermind, told Cointelegraph that while the commitment manager is indeed both theoretical and practical in terms of broader Ethereum client selection, there are more components that must be maintained, which could slow down the system:
“Nethermind has uniquely fast historical logs serving that I do not think other clients can match. Without a log indexing solution like ours (or the close second — OpenEthereum) tracking code may take a long time to execute.”
Kyle Thomas, founder and CEO of Provide, an enterprise integration middleware vendor, told Cointelegraph that the commitment manager isn’t necessarily intended for production in its current form, noting that it consumes two to three times the bandwidth in comparison with Nethermind. “From an enterprise perspective, this is costlier in both performance and hard dollar terms,” he said.
Thomas highlighted that the commitment manager architecture requires maintaining three separate components instead of natively providing its functionality within the Ethereum client itself. This means there is more overhead in terms of software development and operations to run and maintain. However, Thomas believes there is merit to the reverse proxy approach taken by the commitment manager in that its goal is not to enable production applications, but rather to make the Baseline community more accessible by supporting any Ethereum client.
Shedding light on this, John Wolpert, technical steering committee chair for Baseline Protocol, told Cointelegraph that the Baseline Protocol technique doesn’t stipulate the use of Ethereum as the common frame of reference in a baselined workflow, but as a practical matter. He also noted that much of the work is being done by the volunteer community, which appears mainly Ethereum-focused. “This reference implementation is Ethereum-focused, but others could implement things differently on the same specification,” he said.
Stokes confirmed that the commitment manager service could be modified to talk to other types of blockchain clients such as Bitcoin, Fabric or Corda, adding: “But right now, ‘out-of-the-box,’ it only knows how to speak to Ethereum clients which support the common Ethereum client jsonrpc API.”