Published On - February 12, 2020
A brief history of Enterprise Ethereum Standards
As we approach the third anniversary of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA), I wanted to share my perspective on the journey that has got us to where we are with respect to standards for enterprise Ethereum. The Launch
The EEA launched back in February 2017, intending to provide industry standards for Ethereum blockchain technology that meet the needs of enterprise. At launch, it had 30 members. Along with the price of Ether, this number quickly grew and unlike crypto didn’t crash so at the time of writing there are around 200 active members.
One of the catalysts for Enterprise Ethereum, was JP Morgan launching their Ethereum derivative Quorum in November 2016. This was huge at the time for Ethereum, as you had one of the titans of finance making a pretty clear statement on which technology they were betting on. This really captured my imagination. I’d already bedded down on Ethereum earlier that year and released Web3j with the specific goal of supporting enterprise devs on Ethereum, so it slotted in nicely.
Following the EEA’s launch, several initial working groups formed. Conversations started happening on what an enterprise Ethereum specification should look like. The following presentation from Bob Summerwill is a useful relic here. At this point, I was an outsider, but I signed Web3 Labs up as soon as I could (we were blk.io back then), and started contributing to the developer tooling initiatives.
Then in the summer of 2017, the Quorum working group was launched which I had the role of chair alongside Alex Liu of MaiCoin. They were the team that first proposed Istanbul BFT, the consensus mechanism that ended up being widely used in Quorum.
The Technical Specification Working Group
In the months following, time was spent by the membership figuring out the best way forward to create some initial standards for Enterprise Ethereum. This entailed a couple of face to face member meetings in London and New York. The meetings provided some cool insights into how many firms had progressed with their enterprise blockchain initiatives. They also highlighted the challenges running Ethereum in an enterprise setting provided.
Even though we still didn’t have a specification for enterprise Ethereum at this point, we had established the foundation for creating one. The Quorum working group evolved into the Technical Specification Working Group. This reflected the number of vendors working on enterprise Ethereum clients - BlockApps, Clearmatics and Consensys alongside JP Morgan.
We also benefited from having industry veterans coming onboard to help the effort. Between them, they had multiple decades of experience creating technical standards for other industry bodies including IEEE and W3C. This effort ensured that come Consensus 2018, the EEA unveiled version 1 of the Enterprise Ethereum Technical Specification standard, which was a major milestone for the group.
Version 2 of the specification was launched roughly 6 months later at Devcon 4 in Prague, along with version 0.1 of the Offchain Compute specification. Since then two revisions of the specification have been published per year.The most recent, version 4 was released at Devcon 5 in Osaka. You can view the released versions of these specs and also, the current editor's draft.
All of the collaboration for the Technical Specification is achieved via GitHub, in a very similar manner to the production of specifications by W3C. Contributors meet weekly to discuss specific issues. Face to face meetings are held twice a year for attendees to go deeper on various parts of the specification. These meetings are fantastic as they bring together everyone into the same room from various continents.
It's been fascinating as the chair to see how the discussions have evolved during the past two years. When the group first started, it was fairly easy to keep up with the nuances of the discussions. The teams working on the technology were relatively small and hadn’t been doing it for too long. Now, you have much larger teams going very deep with parts of the technology which makes for some pretty low-level conversations that you must pay attention to so you’re not left behind!
This too is reflected by the diversity of contributors to the most recent specification. There were contributions from 55 individuals from over 20 different companies spanning 4 continents (version 1 had less than half the number of individual contributors).
The EEA in London
The next face to face meeting is coming up later this month in London. If you can make it to the meeting it will be an awesome opportunity to speak first-hand with other EEA members. If you’re not an EEA member, don’t worry, there’s a public EEA London Meetup taking place which you can attend!
Hopefully, this gives you a taste of how the EEA technical specification has evolved to reach where it is now. There’s a lot of other significant initiatives going on at the EEA that I haven’t touched on but will do in the future. And, if you can make the face to face meeting or the Meetup later this month it will be great to see you there.