The enterprise still seems a bit leery about blockchain, although it isn’t for lack of trying among solutions providers who say it can help with everything from ecommerce to back-office workflow processing.
The digital ledger technology that has led to the rise of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum is also capable of providing an open, nearly unbreakable record of virtually any other kind of transaction, whether it is an exchange of code on a development project or updates to a user profile. This is what makes it such a compelling tool for the enterprise: Virtually anything that needs to be tracked through time and verified as accurate up to the present can utilize blockchain.
Still, the technology’s reputation as an enabler for swindlers, drug dealers and terrorists has placed a high bar on its acceptance into the enterprise, something a number of organizations are hoping to overcome.
Think of blockchain’s effect on digital transactions as equivalent to Google’s effect on search, says Victor Wong, CEO of blockchain applications management developer BlockApps. In a recent interview with Enterprisers Project, he noted that Google prioritizes its results, in part at least, on the number of links it has. The thinking is that more links indicates more useful information for a greater number of people. Blockchain works the same by verifying data, and any changes to that data, on multiple sites around the world. With perhaps hundreds, even thousands, of databases all checking against one another at the same time, the network itself becomes that chief guard against tampering.
To create this network of blockchains, however, the data industry will need a way to connect the individual blockchains housed on private networks. That’s what a company called Nuco hopes to do. Created by former Deloitte employees, that company has developed the Aion platform that acts as a bridge between disparate blockchains so data can be transferred securely from one to another. The system uses a token-based incentive system to get parties to validate transactions and contribute resources to the environment, while at the same time provide a voting system to oversee governance and future development.
Meanwhile, a company called The Bitfury Group has created the Exonum development framework to give the enterprise a hand when it comes to creating customized blockchain applications. Utilizing a combination of snapshots to anchor projects like Bitcoin and the Rust programming language, as well as smart contract management derived from intelligent business logic, Exonum is said to provide a secure, high-performance mechanism to quickly push applications and services into production environments. Source code is available on Github.
But probably the biggest confidence-builder for blockchain is the fact that trusted IT vendors like Microsoft are embracing it as well. Inside Bitcoins reports that the company recently outlined an ambitious strategy to incorporate Blockchain as a Service (BaaS) into the Azure cloud. The platform uses the Ethereum project and the Solidity programming language for both test and deployment of blockchain apps. The company is initially looking at financial institutions and insurance providers to test the system, but it expects use cases in manufacturing, health care and other industries before long. The company has also pledged support for other projects, including Chain Core, Hyperledger and Quora.
Blockchain is so new, and so revolutionary, that the enterprise can be forgiven for wanting to tread lightly. But it is also one of those technologies that has the potential to pull the rug out from under long-established business models, giving start-ups a strong wedge to break into established industries.
It’s probably too soon to say definitively whether blockchain will help or hurt a given enterprise, but it is certainly something to keep an eye on.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.