Application development for the Internet of Things (IoT) is proving to be a bit trickier than initially thought. When processes are intended to function across a diverse collection of systems and infrastructure, how is the enterprise expected to maintain data integrity or prevent theft or illegal copying of proprietary code?
Increasingly, though, organizations are turning to blockchain, the distributed ledger system that powers virtual currencies like Bitcoin. The system acts as a digital record-keeper that utilizes multiple hardened data centers around the world to verify changes to data sets, or blocks, so users can add or alter data without undoing previous contributions in the chain. It’s not unbreakable, of course, but it would require an extremely sophisticated attack in order to alter all of the chains stored at multiple sites.
According to Research and Markets, the market for blockchain is set to jump from today’s $2.5 billion to nearly $20 billion by 2025, in part through development of enterprise-facing applications and services outside of traditional finance and transaction functions. These include identity and access management, automated compliance and market analysis. Blockchain, in fact, can provide an accurate record of virtually any type of data exchange where trust is a major factor, such as event logging, document signing and even voting.
Leading figures across multiple industries are anxious to see what blockchain can do in an increasingly digital-oriented economy. Earlier this month, a host of companies including Intel, Microsoft and J.P. Morgan, launched the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance dedicated to implementing a version of the open-source Ethereum platform as a blockchain standard. The group will concentrate on crucial add-ons to the format, such as privacy controls and plug-and-play consensus functions, which should allow enterprises to implement a verifiable record of events over peer-to-peer networks. Ostensibly, the organization’s format will be private, but the intent is to work closely with public versions of blockchain.
Meanwhile, IBM has launched what it calls an enterprise-ready blockchain service that allows developers to build and host secure blockchain networks in its IBM Cloud. IBM Blockchain is based on the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Fabric and is hosted on the IBM LinuxONE server under IBM’s High Security Business Network service. The system offers a number of enterprise-class features for highly compliant work environments, such as integrated security on both hardware and software, Evaluation Assurance Level 5+ for high isolation, and a highly auditable operating environment. As well, it provides a broad set of governance tools that simplify network set-up and visibility. (Disclosure: I provide content services for IBM.)
With all this industry activity, however, is there any reason for the enterprise to take a go-slow approach to blockchain at this point? Perhaps, says Design News’ Chris Wiltz. For one thing, blockchain is still a relatively new technology and its potential to affect the world economy is tremendous, so we can expect to see regulations emerge over time that may or may not enhance its value to the enterprise. And like any development early in the hype cycle, there is a tendency to rush it into production environments before a use case has been clearly defined, which is exactly the opposite of how modern devops is supposed to function.
As well, it is important to remember that the current protection against altering a blockchain, namely its mirroring ability across a worldwide collection of data centers, is only effective against current hacking capabilities based on conventional computing power. But conventional computing is on the verge of giving way to quantum computing, which introduces an entirely new level of potential mischief.
Before the enterprise becomes too dependent on blockchain, it would be wise to make sure it can provide a trusted ledger of digital events both now and into the future.
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.