Improving Blockchain Performance Off-Chain, Hyperledger Announces Avalon

By October 15, 2019 Ethereum
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In a recent blog post, the Hyperledger project announced a new project, called Hyperledger Avalon, that addresses scalability and privacy challenges that are currently associated with many blockchain projects. The projects seek to address these scalability and privacy challenges through the use of trusted off-chain processing, while ensuring the transactions are secure and resilient. The core strategy to accomplishing scalability and privacy is a Trusted Compute Service that provides a Trusted Execution Environment (TEE), Zero Knowledge Proofs (ZKP) and Multi-Party Compute (MPC).

Hyperledger Avalon is a broadly supported blockchain project and includes involvement from organizations like Intel, iExec Blockchain Tech, Alibaba Cloud, Baidu, Chainlink, ConsenSys, IBM, Microsoft and Oracle. The project previously executed underneath the Trusted Compute Framework (TCF) name and is a collaboration across the Hyperledger project, Enterprise Ethereum Alliance and the cloud provider ecosystem.

Traditionally when transactions are processed on the blockchain, scalability becomes a challenge if every node in the blockchain needs to be informed of the transaction and update their copy of the distributed ledger. This behavior ensures that transactions are transparent and the data is resilient as there are many copies of this data across the nodes that are participating in the network. However, this also reduces the throughput possible by using this architecture.

The Hyperledger Avalon project has found a balance between scalability and confidentiality. Dan Middleton, a principal engineer at Intel and Hyperledger TSC chairman, explains how they have accomplished this:

The use of “trusted computing” is intended to maintain resiliency and integrity guarantees as much as possible while affording the additional performance and confidentiality. Trusted computing includes a variety of techniques to ensure that computation was done correctly and secretly. Hyperledger Avalon will realize these as different Worker types and include TEE (Trusted Execution Environments like Intel® SGX), MPC (multi-party compute), and ZK (zero-knowledge proofs).

To process transactions off-chain, trusted worker processes need to be vetted and catalogued within a registry that includes their attestation information. These trusted worker processes also include Oracles which provide a trusted data feed that is generated outside of the blockchain but can be depended upon for secure and consisted data entering the blockchain.

Another aspect to enabling secure off-chain processing is hardware. Intel has made several contributions in this area by building Intel Software Guard Extensions (SGX) that provide a set of processing instructions which govern application code and data access. Michael Reed, a data governance manager at Intel, explains how Intel SGX contributes to the Hyperledger Avalon capability set:

Trusted Execution Environments (TEEs) like Intel SGX play a key role in off-chain execution. By using a TEE, a developer can help improve the integrity of the link between off-chain and on-chain execution. Intel SGX capabilities such as code verification, execution isolation, and attestation verification can help provide a reliable link between main chain and off-chain compute resources.

Zero-Knowledge Proofs (ZKP) also play a role in the Hyperledger Avalon architecture by “proving that you know some secret (or many secrets) to somebody at the other end of communication without actually revealing it.”

Now that Avalon has elevated to a full Hyperledger project, the next areas of investments include: improving Hyperledger Fabric integration, adding an Ethereum client and Hyperledger Besu integration.

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