Thought Leadership: Blockchain Beyond Bitcoin

By SHARE’d Intelligence Editor with Jennifer Foley

There are many misconceptions about blockchain: how it can benefit your organization, is it even possible to harness for the purposes of open finance and many more. SHARE’d Intelligence chatted with Jennifer Foley, Integration Architect – WW Client Center for Systems Innovation, Certified IT Specialist & Architect, Open Group Master Certified IT Specialist & Architect for IBM Mobile Enterprise to learn more.

Do you think that blockchain and open finance are viable for businesses? Is it secure?

Blockchain is definitely viable for businesses. As with all other technology, it's only as secure as you make it. If you make the blockchain technology publically available and take no measures to secure it, then it becomes a risk and not suitable for business. If you use a private, permissioned blockchain than it can actually be very beneficial for business networks and resolve inefficient processes.

Potentially, how many blockchain instances would a large financial institution such as a bank have concurrently active, and how many gigabytes would each of them be on average?

It depends. I would see a large financial institution having a few different blockchain networks. In theory, you could have one for each network you have today: lenders, retail branches, mortgage, etc. The idea is to see what business networks where an asset is transferred could benefit from having a centralized, replicated ledger instead of decentralized databases at each peer in the network. The size of them will greatly vary based on how they are architected and what is passed through them. I don't think many of them will get too large too quickly. I could see established blockchain networks eventually getting to several GBs. There has been a lot of debate in the community for how to address what would happen if the chain became quite large. It's going to be interesting to see how this is addressed in fabric updates to Hyperledger.

What business problems do current blockchain implementations deal with (loans, large transfers, property purchases), and what future business opportunities might be realized using this technology?

Blockchain implementations are currently being used to address financial disputes, the loan process and mortgage and property purchases. This is only the tip of the iceberg. The great thing about business driving the need and requirements for blockchain implementations is that their ideas are different and innovative. They see and hear things differently than those of us typically on the technology side.

What are the technical requirements (security, availability, performance, data capacity, storage, processing power) of platforms capable of managing blockchain, compared to those capable of actively participating in it?

To host a blockchain technology such as the Hyperledger fabric, the requirements are pretty simple: a Linux operating system that can run Docker containers. Depending on how you configure your network, you could host and manage the network for your peers or each peer could host their replica of the chain. The advantage of hosting the blockchain network for your peers is that you could manage performance and other qualities of service, likely based on agreements with your peers. IBM recently announced support for a specific configuration of the fabric.

If you're looking to just participate in the blockchain network through a cloud offering or if a peer is hosting it for you rather than you just needing information on how to access the permissioned ledger, exchange credentials to validate the peer and then utilize APIs or SDKs to communicate to the chain. This is assuming that a smart contract is already written and deployed to the ledger.

What would you say to individuals who think blockchain is just bitcoin?

I stress that bitcoin is a digital currency and blockchain is a technology. Blockchain is the technology that allows individuals to buy or sell bitcoins. There are many implementations of blockchain just as there are many implementations of other technologies like relational databases or application servers. Each implementation is looking to address specific needs. For blockchain, we are seeing that some of these implementations are looking to address specific industry needs and regulations. For the Hyperledger Project, their implementation of blockchain is modular to allow for organizations across all industries to be able to use the fabric and tailor it for their specific needs. This could include using a specific type of encryption, setting various levels of permissions or using a different type of consensus.

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