For the past couple of years, IBM has been one of the technology industry’s biggest proponents of blockchain technology. Over the past few weeks, the IT behemoth has taken several steps to boost mainstream business adoption of the distributed and secure ledger technology.
In late March, IBM unveiled the new release of IBM Blockchain, which it billed as the first enterprise-ready blockchain service based on the Linux Foundation's open-source Hyperledger Fabric v. 1.0. As TechCrunch noted, this is a kind of “Blockchain as a Service” that can be used by a wide range of companies, all of which IBM wants to host via its IBM Cloud.
IBM has bet big on blockchain, which it sees as a potentially revolutionary technology that increases visibility, transparency and auditability, as well as reengineers business processes. Speaking last month at the company’s InterConnect conference, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty said that blockchain will be a crucial tool for “financial services, supply chain, and global logistics,” and that it “will do for trusted transactions what the internet has done for information,” according to Forbes.
Making Blockchain a Service
What is blockchain? For IBM, the technology enables the transfer of assets (physical, intangible and digital) within a business network. The assets — anything from a car or boat to a bond, security, licenses, contracts or digital file — are transferred from suppliers to manufacturers, distribution networks and to the final end users. All of this is done via a shared ledger that provides all users along the chain full visibility into the transactions.
How is all of that done? As IBM explains:
“The two concepts underpinning blockchain are ‘business network’ and ‘ledger.’ Taken together, these are what make blockchain a smart, tamper-resistant way to conduct trade, transactions and business processes. Network members exchange assets through a ledger that all members share access to. The ledger is synced across the network with all members needing to confirm a transaction of tangible or intangible assets before it is approved and stored on the blockchain. This shared view helps establish legitimacy and transparency, even when parties are not familiar with one another.”
And as ZDNet notes: “Cryptography secures the data and new transactions are linked to previous ones, making it near-impossible to change older records without having to change subsequent ones. And because multiple ‘nodes’ (computers) run the network, one would need to gain control of more than half of them in order to make changes.”
IBM notes that the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger framework is designed to allow the creation of “enterprise-grade blockchain networks that can quickly scale as new network members join and transact at rates of more than 1,000 transactions per second among large ecosystems of users.”
The IBM Blockchain service was built to help developers create, deploy and manage blockchain networks on the IBM Cloud. The company touts blockchain clients ranging from startup Everledger to financial services leaders Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ and Northern Trust, and even retail giant Walmart.
IBM says it is adding security to blockchain through its high-security business network, which integrates security from the hardware up through the software stack, specifically designed for enterprise blockchains. The company says this will give blockchain networks protection from insider attacks; data protection for highly regulated industries like financial services and healthcare; virtual containerization of blockchains; strong encryption; and comprehensive logging systems to supports forensics, auditing and compliance.
Additionally, IBM rolled out the first commercially available blockchain governance tools and new open-source developer tools that automate the steps it takes to build with the Hyperledger Fabric, reducing the build-time from weeks to days.
To make it easier for developers to create blockchains that fit business needs, IBM Blockchain includes new open-source developer tools for Hyperledger Fabric called Fabric Composer. The tools can help users model business networks, create application programming interfaces (APIs) that integrate with the blockchain network and existing systems of record, and quickly build a user interface, according to IBM.