Let the Blockchain Games Begin

Can IBM’s ‘Blockchain as a Service’ finally facilitate mass adoption?

In the last few years, blockchain technologies have gained real traction in finance. Blockchain’s general ledger relies on transparency, honesty and security – all of which are vital within transactions. Blockchain has also been applied outside of the financial industry. In trade, for example, it has been used to restore trust between traders and regulatory authorities. The problem is, with so many businesses working on their own versions of blockchain, there is no single service with the power to enable mass adoption. On top of this, developers are still preoccupied with creating a system that can cope with mass usership. Last year, IBM announced their development of an open source service that could provide a single platform for the creation of secure blockchain-based networks. This month, the tech powerhouse revealed the finished product – IBM Blockchain. But how will it disrupt the blockchain community, and who are they competing against?

Developing blockchain for mass adoption
Blockchain has become increasingly popular in industries that rely on transactions, so it’s no wonder that companies have jostled to come up with their own blockchain-based solutions. However, these sporadic services present a a barrier to establishing a single ledger that can be successful on a large scale. That’s where IBM Blockchain comes in. The suite of cloud services is based on Hyperledger Fabric, which is an open source, collaborative project with the goal of managing blockchain. Hyperledger is a version of the technology that encourages businesses to build accountable, trustworthy frameworks as a community. IBM’s new platform represents the first commercial application of Blockchain as a Service (BaaS) which aligns with these aims. The tech giant may have positioned itself as a blockchain provider, but it isn’t a one-horse race. The company has competition from the likes of Microsoft, which has been adding BaaS models to its cloud computing programme Azure since 2015. Microsoft’s system is also open source and cloud based, but it favours the public Ethereum blockchain. Due to its public nature, Microsoft can’t control any changes made to Ethereum. . . but because IBM is a member of the private Hyperledger Fabric project, it has to agree to any and all modifications. Although this seems like a killer blow for Microsoft, public blockchain platforms arguably have more development scope and collaborative potential.

How disruptive is Blockchain as a Service?
IBM’s bold move is a clear indication that the company envisions itself as the go-to provider for blockchain. This isn’t great news for competitors like Microsoft, who are directly challenged by the venture. For smaller organisations, however, BaaS saves the hassle of developing in-house systems. Taking away the need for companies and governments to worry about their own individual blockchain solutions offers a useful service, whilst establishing a monopoly at the same time. In other words, IBM has made the blockchain sphere even more interesting. The existence of an enterprise ready service is disruptive enough, but it’s the uses of the tech which will really rock the boat. BaaS takes blockchain out of finance and allows it to address various other applications, including essentially all administrative processes of both corporate businesses and governmental bodies. The ability to access trustworthy, traceable records is clearly very attractive for any organisation. BaaS is also an enabler for technologies powered by Big Data, as shown by a proof-of-concept for blockchain-based IoT revealed in 2015 by IBM and Samsung. The Internet of Things will be an obvious benefactor of blockchain development, as so many things (over 20 billion by 2020 in fact, according to Gartner) will need to be identified, connected and made secure. Using digital ledgers could also provide an answer to the rise of cybercrime, by making it obvious when any part of the chain has been tampered with.

IBM’s  Blockchain as a Service has clearly been designed to cut through the confusing crowd of blockchain hopefuls to establish a quality platform that anyone can use. By encouraging accessibility, IBM Blockchain could finally facilitate mass adoption. Of course, there’s still a long way to go. Any business (not just IBM) needs to ensure high quality cryptography so that the data within ledgers remains secure. If we’re going to trust the technology to underlie finance, trade, governance, corporate administration and even the things that we own and interact with, then it needs to be reliable. IBM have clearly taken a vital step in accelerating the adoption of mass blockchain applications, but they’re one of many companies who want to do the same. One thing is for certain – the race for blockchain is well and truly on.

Will IBM ‘win’ blockchain? Can blockchain technology be made suitable for mass use? Which other industries or applications could benefit from blockchain? Comment below with your thoughts.