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The Advantages of Building a Bespoke Blockchain Platform

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For all the discussion in the blockchain solution industry around platform selection (are they choosing Fabric or Sawtooth? Quorum or Corda?), you’d be forgiven for thinking that every provider’s first stop is the open-source infrastructure shelf. But the reality is that blockchain is more a concept than a fixed architecture, and the platforms mentioned do not encompass the totality of use case needs for solution developers. As a result, some solution developers have elected to start with a blank sheet of paper and build blockchain solutions from the ground up.

One such company is Symbiont, who started down this road much earlier than most. Faced with the task of building a smart contracts platform for the BFSI industry, the company examined what was available in prebuilt blockchain platform infrastructure and did not see their solution requirements represented in those offerings – so they built their own. Symbiont’s concerns centered around the two areas of scalability and security, and for the firm’s pursuit target accounts in capital markets and mortgages, those were red-letter issues.

The company addressed these concerns with Symbiont Assembly, the company’s proprietary distributed ledger technology. Assembly was designed to address three specific demands of high-volume transactional processes in the financial services sector: fault tolerance, volume management, and security.

Supporting fault tolerance

Assembly addresses the first of these through the application of a design called Byzantine Fault Tolerance (BFT). Where some blockchain platforms allow for node failure within a distributed ledger environment, platforms using BFT broaden that definition to include the possibility of a node acting maliciously, and can control for actions taken by these nodes as well. The Symbiont implementation of BFT is on the BFT-SMaRt protocol.

Volume management

In addressing the volume demands of financial services processing, deciding on the BFT-SMaRt protocol was again important, as it enables Assembly to reach performance levels in the ~80k/s range consistently.

This has two specific benefits, one obvious and one less so. First, it means that Assembly can manage the very high-volume transaction pace of applications in specialized financial trading markets without scale concerns. Secondly, it means that in lower-volume environments, the extra ‘headroom’ that BFT-SMaRt affords Assembly can be used to store related data on the ledger without the need to resort to a centralized data store to hold, for example, scanned legal documents that support smart contracts.

Addressing security concerns

The same BFT architecture that supports Assembly’s fault tolerance also provides an additional layer of security, in that malicious node activity is actively identified and quarantined, while ‘honest’ nodes can continue to communicate and transact via consensus. Add in encryption of data, whereby Assembly creates a private security ledger within the larger ledger, and the result is a robust level of security for applications with significant risk of malicious activity in high-value trading and exchange.

Advantages of building a bespoke blockchain platform

Building its own blockchain platform cost Symbiont many hours and R&D dollars that competitors did not have to spend, but ultimately this decision provides Symbiont with three strategic advantages over competitors:

  • Assembly is purpose-built for BFT-relevant, high-volume environments. As a result, the platform has performance and throughput benefits for applications in these environments compared with broader-use blockchain platforms that are intended to be used across a variety of business DLT needs. To some degree this limits the flexibility of the platform in other use cases, but just as a Formula One engine is a bespoke tool for a specific job, so too is Assembly specifically designed to excel in its native use case environment. That provides real benefits to users electing to build their banking DLT applications on the Assembly architecture
  • Symbiont can provide for third-party smart contract writing, should it elect to do so. While this is not in the roadmap for the moment, and Symbiont appears content to build client solutions on proprietary deliverables from the contract-writing layer through the complete infrastructure of the solution, the company could elect to allow clients to write their own smart contracts ‘at the top of the stack’. Symbiont does intend to keep the core Assembly platform proprietary to the company for the foreseeable future
  • Assembly may attract less malicious activity interest than traditional platforms. The rising number of blockchain projects based on HyperLedger and Ethereum is certain to attract more malicious activity based on the commonality of the architecture across a broader common base of technology. In much the same way that Windows historically attracted more virus incursions than the OS platform, Assembly will tend to attract less attention than platforms with broader user bases. Moreover, Assembly’s BFT foundations will enable it to deal more effectively with those events that do occur.

Summary

Symbiont isn’t alone in developing its own proprietary blockchain technology architecture rather than choose from the broadly available offerings in the space, and as blockchain enters the mainstream of enterprise business, other provider organizations will surely go the same route.

What Symbiont has established is an exemplar for developing a purpose-built blockchain platform, beginning with the specific needs of the task environment at scale, and proceeding to address those needs carefully in the development process. 

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