Blockchain – still just for cryptocurrency?

Written by Phil Alsop, Editor, DCS Europe Published 2019-07-01 09:13:19

A recent report from Cognizant suggests that 83 percent of European business decision makers expect blockchain to have an important impact on their industry. But just what is this impact likely to be, and when is it likely to happen?

The ‘Blockchain in Europe: Closing the Strategy Gap’ report examined the attitudes of over 1500 European decision makers across multiple industry sectors. Findings include the fact that most organisations are reluctant to collaborate with other businesses, even though there are significant benefits from competitors working together to develop blockchain platforms. For example, following a series of meetings in 2017 and early 2018, over 50 percent of the world’s car manufacturers, including BMW, General Motors, Ford and Groupe Renault, formed the Mobility Open Blockchain Initiative (MOBI) to develop the potential of blockchain to make mobility safer, greener and more affordable.

The survey also highlights that, in order to realise the full potential of blockchain, businesses need to explore new ways of working, rather than being used as a new way to carry out existing tasks. One example would be the improvement in transaction reliability, security and speed across a global supply chain – so long as all the supply chain partners are working across the same blockchain platform.

Other issues that need to be addressed include the fact that many organisations are still evaluating and trying to understand potential blockchain uses; that these same organisations are split between developing private blockchain models and open, public blockchains; and the challenges of both scalability and integrating blockchain with current enterprise applications.

The message seems to be that no one is doubting the potential of blockchain technology to deliver real, valuable change right across the business world. What’s less clear is exactly how and when.

Nevertheless, there are an increasing number of blockchain technology implementations and projects being developed outside of its cryptocurrency and gaming sweet spots:

  • The Pistoia Alliance, a global, not-for-profit alliance that works to lower barriers to innovation in life sciences R&D, has launched the next phase of its blockchain project. This phase will focus on the development of practical life science R&D use cases that deliver clear ROI, as well as identifying which applications of blockchain will provide little value to the industry. The Pistoia Alliance is to work with members to examine three areas blockchain has potential to improve; data identity (validating where and who data has come from), data integrity (ensuring data hasn’t been tampered with), and data sharing (within and between organisations).
  • Meanwhile, ANSecurity, a specialist in advanced network and data security, has announced a successful project with Gemalto to help Trustology deliver Blockchain technology used to secure digital assets. Trustology is developing technology and services to help private and institutional clients secure digital assets. Its first product, TrustVault, is a step change in key management. It combines private key protection against cyber and physical threats with low latency execution, by safekeeping private keys and control codes inside tamper-proof, programmable hardware security modules (HSMs) hosted in secure data centres, with encrypted backups in the cloud. Trustology has created a bespoke solution that has its software embedded within the HSM, a dedicated crypto processor that is specifically designed for the protection of the crypto key lifecycle, which uses blockchain to further strengthen and scale its advanced cryptographic infrastructure service.
  • Apla, a technology company, regionally headquartered in Dubai and developing blockchain solutions for governments and enterprises is partnering with the Centre for Good Governance (CGG) Hyderabad, Government of Telangana to deliver blockchain infrastructure, application and services to government entities in India as well as in other regions in the near future.
  • Seagate Technology and IBM are working together to reduce product counterfeiting using blockchain and security technologies. The project, which is designed to help manufacturers, integrators, and business partners fight counterfeit hard drives, uses the IBM Blockchain Platform to authenticate the provenance of disk drive products, bringing a new level of multi-layered security protection to the data management industry.

In terms of blockchain’s likely impact on the data centre, as more and more use cases are developed, there’s little doubt that there’s going to be an increased demand for infrastructure to support the graphical processing units (GPUs) that are a key part of any solution. So, infrastructure will need to be able to deal with significantly higher network traffic and GPU-based server numbers look set to increase significantly.

Security is already a high priority in the data centre but, bearing in mind that most, if not all, blockchain applications are concerned with financial transactions and business contracts, there’s every chance that IT security is going to need to be taken to a whole new level.

As for the use of blockchain within the data centre itself? It’s early days, but there’s every chance that the tamper-proof nature of the blockchain will play an important role in authenticating data concerning the monitoring and management of the facility. Additionally, blockchain technology could be used to eliminate data loss as data is shared across the distributed ledger architecture – in other words, a new kind of data backup. And there’s also talk of blockchain-enabled, decentralised storage.

Blockchain’s potential is undoubtedly very exciting. However, rather than rush headlong to ‘blockchain everything’, it’s worth taking some time out to understand what it does and doesn’t do and to think not so much about how it could improve existing business processes and practices, rather what new, innovative approaches to business can be opened up – often in collaboration with like-minded organisations, including your competitors.

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