Once again, IBM has taken an emerging technology and put its own special twist on it to make the technology work for Big Blue and its enterprise customer base. This time it’s the blockchain distributed ledger technology that IBM has optimized.
IBM has been able to tap into emerging technologies and quickly adapt them to the IBM way. The company has done this with a host of technologies such as Apache Spark, Hadoop, Cloud Foundry, Java, Linux, the Internet of things (IOT) and more.
A blockchain is essentially a distributed database that enables users to design a digital ledger of transactions and share it amongst a distributed network of computers. Blockchain is the technical foundation of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, largely because it provides a transparent, secure and simple way to transact business. The core components of blockchain are a network of computers, a network protocol and a consensus mechanism.
IBM refers to blockchain as an operating system for interactions. “It has the potential to vastly reduce the cost and complexity of getting things done,” reads a description of blockchain on IBM’s Bluemix site. “The distributed ledger makes it easier to create cost-efficient business networks where virtually anything of value can be tracked and traded, without requiring a central point of control.”
However, because blockchain is an emerging technology, no standards have been established on the requirements to securely operate blockchain networks in the cloud, IBM said. To help speed the adoption of blockchain for business, IBM announced a new framework for securely operating blockchain networks, as well as new services on the IBM Cloud that meet existing regulatory and security requirements.
Although, blockchain networks are built on the notion of decentralized control, some cloud environments leave back doors open to vulnerabilities that allow tampering and unauthorized access, IBM said. The company tasked its security experts, cryptographers, hardware engineers and researchers to create new cloud services for trusted blockchain networks.
“When it comes to blockchain for the enterprise world, our research has shown that permissioned blockchains are the only way to go,” said Jerry Cuomo, vice president of Blockchain at IBM, in a blog post.
Moreover, in contrast to their permissionless counterparts, permissioned blockchains are the only systems that can enforce policies that can constrain both access to data and participation in the network, based on identity, Cuomo said. “This design enables participating companies to comply with data protection regulations. Permissioned blockchains are also more effective at controlling the consistency of the data that gets appended to the blockchain, allowing for more granular decision processes to be built on top of them.”
IBM’s new blockchain cloud services provide an auditable operating environment with log data to support forensics and compliance. The services also enable users to store crypto keys and monitor unauthorized attempts to enter the system. Plus, the new IBM Cloud services provide protected environments to prevent leaks through shared memory or hardware.
IBM’s new blockchain solutions and initiatives are an interesting example of how the company can move, more or less unilaterally, to innovate in emerging technologies, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.
IBM Puts Its Twist on Blockchain With New Security Framework
“A continuing problem with blockchain has been a lack of consensus around appropriate requirements for securely operating cloud-based blockchain networks,” King told eWEEK. “Rather than waiting for those to evolve, IBM collaborated with clients, startups and developers to ascertain what requirements were needed, then developed cloud services that met the highest levels of government standards for using blockchain in government, financial services and health care.”
Indeed, IBM worked with a host of organizations in the blockchain ecosystem to deliver secure cloud services that meet Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS 140-2) and Evaluation Assurance Levels (EAL) requirements to support the use of blockchain in these environments.
The company is also making it easier to use IBM’s code based on the Linux Foundation Hyperledger Project in any environment, and providing services on the IBM Bluemix Platform as a Service—which is based on Cloud Foundry.
The IBM Cloud blockchain services enable users to build production blockchain networks to be deployed in minutes, running certified Docker images with dashboards and analytics.
Moreover, the beta release of the IBM Blockchain on Bluemix service provides access to the Linux Hyperledger code. A distribution of IBM’s code submission to the Hyperledger project also is available on Docker Hub.
The Bluemix services make it easy for developers at companies such as Factom to work with IBM Blockchain code, said Paul Snow, chief architect at Factom, in a statement. Factom provides a data layer for blockchain.
IBM is building a new Bluemix Garage in New York this month and is working with customers such as BNY Mellon on a blockchain network to trade and transfer assets.
“At BNY Mellon, we are actively exploring blockchain’s potential to better serve our clients and our company,” said Suresh Kumar, CIO of BNY Mellon, in a statement. “With this new initiative, IBM is providing an environment that will allow companies like us to collaborate more easily and more securely and in a more standardized way, which is critical to advancing meaningful use cases for blockchain.”
Cuomo said IBM’s new services help organizations overcome one of the key inhibitors of the adoption of blockchain—the concern about security.
“Many other vendors obviously have interests in developing such solutions, but it’s difficult to think of another company that could move as quickly and decisively as IBM to make secure blockchain solutions available for its customers, partners and developer communities,” King said.
IBM recently co-sponsored a Consensus Building Blocks Hackathon 2016, where developers used IBM’s blockchain service on Bluemix to build applications incorporating services such as IBM Watson, IBM Internet of Things, The Weather Channel Data and others.
“Blockchain is a highly innovative and promising technology. However, there are a lot of issues to be solved for enterprise systems,” said Eiji Ueki, director and executive vice president of NTT DATA, in a statement. “IBM’s new blockchain cloud service is directly trying to address those issues. We believe this will help accelerate the maturation of blockchain technology.”