Brian Behlendorf

IBM Has Doubled Seats on Hyperledger Blockchain Steering Board

September 10, 2019 at 1:28 AM | By Jit Sutradhar Feature

IBM has doubled the number of its employees on the Hyperledger Technical Steering Committee (TSC), raising concerns about the influence of the technology giant in the enterprise blockchain consortium.

Six of the 11 members of the 2019-2020 TSC announced last week are IBM employees. Five work at Big Blue and one, Mark Wagner, is a senior senior engineer at Red Hat, a subsidiary of IBM. By comparison, the TSC of the previous year had only two IBM representatives and the same total number of seats (Wagner served on the committee, but IBM’s acquisition of Red Hat did not close until July 2019).

The new committee will begin to govern after the new president of the TSC is elected next week.

While IBM has played an important role in Hyperledger, having contributed to the Fabric code, the largest and oldest consortium project, the election results shook some participants from rival firms.

Todd Little, a blockchain platform architect at Oracle, wrote on the TSC mailing list:

“It is very clear that IBM now controls the TSC and is that the direction Hyperledger wants to take?”

The direction of one of the three most widely adopted enterprise blockchain platforms is at stake, the other being Corda de R3 and variants of the ethereum blockchain. The TSC Hyperledger is responsible for creating working groups to focus on technical problems, approve projects and review updates.

Low voter participation was also raised as a reason to distrust IBM’s dominance in the committee, with only 33 percent of Hyperledger members voting.

“It has been shown that in a low participation election, committed and well-organized groups dominate,” wrote Vipin Bharathan, a business blockchain consultant.

IBM did not comment at the close of this edition.

True blue?

Brian Behlendorf, executive director of Hyperledger, responded to concerns in the mailing list discussion.

Hyperledger developers “are expected to participate and contribute first as individuals and then as employees,” Behlendorf wrote.

He added that Hyperledger staff had provided private comments in the past when they saw TSC members acting out of loyalty to their employers, that the community can report bad behavior and that Hyperledger cannot change the outcome of an election just because the results They are not what the members expected.

In an interview with CoinDesk, Behlendorf noted that electoral participation was consistent with what Hyperledger had experienced in the past. “It’s not that Linux or other open source organizations have a 100 percent or 80 percent stake,” he said.

About 130 of the 600 eligible voters participated in this last election. Anyone who contributes with Hyperledger code can vote, and anyone can nominate himself or another person.

Since the company has made more technical contributions than any other company associated with the consortium, this is not the first time that IBM is suspected of having huge control over Hyperledger, which has not been the company’s intention, Behlendorf told the mailing list

“[It was made clear to me that IBM did not want that result,” he wrote. “They brought Fabric to Hyperledger to get influence from the developers, so that their staff would complement the efforts of many others.”

Hyperledger worked with IBM on the technical process and public perception problems.

“I think these are in the past,” Blehendorf wrote. “They no longer represent more than half of the contributions in Fabric … There are many other projects beyond Fabric in Hyperledger, and IBM has backed them, boosting Indy and Sawtooth and now even welcoming Besu. Perhaps this is one reason why the other voters felt comfortable voting for the candidates employed by IBM. ”

The way forward

Blenhendorf then suggested that the TSC discuss the increase in the size of the committee with the governing board or “add a set of new TSC members once, so that this greater representation can happen in the current TSC team.”

Little argued that TSC requirements seemed to be lacking. According to the voting process, he said, one result could be a steering committee led by non-Hyperledger members.

“[Simply] I find it a bit strange that there are no diversity requirements for the TSC,” Little wrote. Responding to Behlendorf, he added: “You are right that the members of the TSC are individuals and not companies, but all [sic] of them know who spreads their bread.”

However, Bob Summerwill, executive director of Ethereum Classic Cooperative, observed another kind of victory in diversity.

Two women, Tracy Kuhrt, a technology architect in Accenture’s emerging technology division, and Swetha Repakula, a software engineer at IBM Open Technologies, won seats on the committees.

Summerwill told the mailing list:

“While I would agree that the high level of IBM affiliation on the 2019-2020 committee is less than ideal, I must take the opportunity to congratulate Tracy and Swetha both on standing for AND winning election to the TSC following years of 100% male candidates.”

Brian Behlendorf image via CoinDesk archives

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