​Blockchain as a Service is here, as the global database goes mainstream

Blockchain is usually associated with Bitcoin, but IBM wants you to know that its applications go way beyond virtual currency.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

Here at IBM InterConnect conference in Las Vegas this week, it's clear IBM is pushing forward with its strategy of building services and solutions for cloud and big data around open-source initiatives. A lot of the stuff is impactful, of course, but perhaps the most impactful of all will be IBM's sprinkling of holy water on Blockchain, the highly distributed global ledger that is mainly used to keep track of Bitcoin transactions, but may see wider applications.

Photo: Joe McKendrick

To promote the use of Blockchain in the enterprise, IBM said it has made nearly 44,000 lines of code available to the Linux Foundation's open source Hyperledger Project to help developers more easily build secure distributed ledgers that can be used to exchange most anything of value.

At InterConnect, senior VP of IBM Cloud Robert LeBlanc said Blockchain opens up many new doors for enterprises, enabling "new services allow developers to come and create available and secure digital transactions over these networks." Blockchain code is being made available in IBM's BlueMix Garages -- its startup incubators.

So, what exactly is Blockchain technology? You can be forgiven for scratching your head on what exactly it is. At the Saugatuck Cloud Buisness Summit a couple of months back, Irving Wladawsky-Berger, a former IBM executive and digital-age thought leader, pondered the potential of Blockchain, noting that "to most people like myself it's really weird right now." He likened Blockchain to a highly distributed global database, noting that a couple of decades back, the Internet itself seemed "really weird when it first showed up."

Blockchain is a virtual, shared ledger - or you could call it a database -- that exists in cyberspace that enables users to track records and accounts. It's most commonly associated, at this time, with Bitcoin, and serves as a neutral way to keep tabs on accounts. Blockchain's security comes out of its highly distributed nature -- according to Wikipedia, it is based on "a continuously growing list of data records hardened against tampering and revision, even by operators of the data store's nodes."

IBM says Blockchain can help "re-imagine the world's most fundamental business interactions and open the door to invent new styles of digital interactions," as it has "the potential to vastly reduce the cost and complexity of cross-enterprise business processes." That's because Blockchain's 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." There are a number of applications which can benefit from Blockchain, which "allows securities to be settled in minutes instead of days. It can also be used to help companies manage the flow of goods and related payments, or enable manufacturers to share production logs with OEMs and regulators to reduce product recalls."

There is potential with Internet of Things applications as well. With the Watson IoT Platform, IBM says it "will make it possible for information from devices such as RFID-based locations, barcode-scan events, or device-reported data to be used with IBM's Blockchain. Devices will be able to communicate to blockchain-based ledgers to update or validate smart contracts. For example, as an IoT-connected package moves along multiple distribution points, the package location and temperature information could be updated on a blockchain. This allows all parties to share information and status of the package as it moves among multiple parties to ensure the terms of a contract are met."

(Disclosure: IBM is assisting me with travel expenses to InterConnect.)

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