Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Carrier Management Magazine on August 19, 2019.
I started my career as the first network administrator at the University of California, Davis. Part of my job was to help build the Bay Area Regional Research network, one of 10 National Science Foundation networks that, in 1986, became what we call the Internet today.
That vantage point gave me insight into the power of networks based upon open standards for information exchange. Hundreds of universities, private companies and governments created their parts of the network and then connected them to one another, seemingly overnight.
It was an exciting time, watching a national highway system being built in just a few years instead of decades. As emails began to replace handwritten letters and company memorandums, a wide range of commercial applications then flourished based upon a collection of open standards that are collectively called the World Wide Web. While many of the largest technology companies jockeyed to control the burgeoning network, open standards ruled the day because it proved to be faster, better and cheaper than proprietary solutions.
Soon, open standards moved beyond the network into software that supports network applications, pushing proprietary solutions to the side. That underlying infrastructure remains open to this day, with standards governed by the not-for-profit Internet Society and its technical arm, the Internet Engineering Task Force.
In the 1980s and 90s, the Unix operating system at the heart of most servers on the network were configured and managed quite differently based upon proprietary versions from technology companies. While technology companies reveled in their differentiation, software developers and systems administrators fumed at the cost and complexity of having to manage all the versions. Out of frustration, software developers volunteered their time to create an open source version of the operating system. The result was Linux, software made available to everyone, reducing cost and complexity for companies.
The release of Linux launched the open source movement. The not-for-profit Linux Foundation was formed in 2000 to manage ongoing development of Linux as well as emerging open source software.
Now, more the 95 percent of the servers on the Internet run on Linux and use a mix of open source software on top of that, such as web servers, database software and tools that help bundle software into easy-to-manage packages. The purpose of this software is to accelerate technology development by enabling companies to add value on top of open source platforms, not reinvent the wheel across many systems. The stewardship of Linux, and the other open source tools like Internet protocols, is provided by a not-for-profit organization to keep the standards and the software open, accessible, and at no cost.
So, what does this have to do with your business and blockchain technology? A lot.
Today, your business relies upon open source-powered infrastructure as an indispensable part of your IT strategy. Your staff and your systems use many web servers and applications built on top of open source infrastructure to conduct business quickly, efficiently and with less expense.
There is no way to predict all of the uses of blockchain technology as it evolves or how blockchain applications will develop in the future, but it’s a safe bet that success will depend upon the same factors that made the Internet and the applications you use today successful: open standards, open source software and common communication protocols.
That is why openIDL (AAIS open Insurance Data Link), the private, permissioned, blockchain network for insurance regulatory reporting, selected Hyperledger Fabric from the Linux Foundation as our platform. As a member-based, not-for-profit advisory organization serving over 700 property and casualty insurance companies, AAIS understood that leveraging the power of the open source community would allow us to focus on building applications for our members, not the blockchain technology itself.
We built openIDL upon open standards and the latest communications protocols developed by Hyperledger so that the network will grow and fit seamlessly into the infrastructure our members use today and in the future.
In the future, your business will be part of many blockchain networks to conduct business more quickly and efficiently, but with a new level of security and auditability that addresses growing concerns around data exchanges and potential data breaches. Just like the underlying network, web servers and new applications that have been incorporated into your business over time, blockchain technology and networks will slowly move in next to them.
We’re seeing a new superhighway being built, and it’s an open road ahead.