Transactions, contracts, and their records are among the defining structures in our political, economic and legal systems. They not only set organizational boundaries but also protect assets. Such records establish and verify chronicled events and identities. They govern interactions among individuals, communities, organizations, and nations. They also guide social and managerial action.
However, the bureaucracies and critical tools created to manage such systems have not been able to keep up with the digital transformation of the economy. Living in a digital world requires us to change our methods of regulating and maintaining administrative control.
The good news is that blockchain promises a better solution for this problem. Blockchain is an open, distributed ledger with the ability to efficiently record transactions between two parties permanently and verifiably. You can even program the ledger to trigger transactions automatically.
Using blockchain creates a world where contracts and other documents are lodged in digital code. The data is then kept in transparent, shared databases where it is protected from tampering, revision, and deletion. In a world where blockchain is used, every process, payment, agreement or task would not only have a digital signature but also a record which could in turn be identified, validated, stored and eventually shared.
Impact on tradition computing
Technologies that are blockchain-based have moved away from only supporting cryptocurrencies. Traditional components of computing such as communications, processing, and storage are slowly being replaced by blockchain technologies. Here are the major building blocks of computing infrastructure that blockchain technology is already influencing.
Processing is one of the first areas of computing that got disrupted by blockchain. It also comprises the most mature ecosystem. Both graphics processing units (GPU) and CPUs in traditional computing deal with processing logic which includes modern, cloud-based distributed processing. The two work in alliance with high-performance processing algorithm tools and models such as TensorFlow, MapReduce, and Spark.
Hyperledger and Ethereum
These two are good examples of how blockchain is disrupting processing. Hyperledger comprises eight projects and tools. It might be a bit challenging to decide which one to use. You ought to begin with Hyperledger Fabric, since it provides foundations for processing, identity, and privacy.
Ethereum on the other hand, took blockchain to another level when it provided users with the option of running other forms of transactions other than financial on a blockchain. It introduced the idea of smart contracts to the blockchain, thus opening many possibilities.
Blockchain has a decentralized nature that should make it perfect for large-scale processing systems. However, its design is currently limits scaling. Some ambitious projects that aim to establish decentralized cloud computing, or supercomputers without vendor lock-in - such as iEx.ec and Golem - are still in the early stages of development.
Another major area that is being disrupted by blockchain is storage. Several projects are offering viable options for massive-scale storage. However, they also endure some of the blockchain issues.
Storage for traditional computing is divided into two categories: database and file storage. A plethora of choices exist in both camps, from mass to scale storage projects. They range from Cassandra, S3, HDFS, and MongoDB, to individual desktop machines. Here are some of the major upcoming projects.
Under this category, BigchaindDB takes a more interesting approach since it allows an existing database and a blockchain layer to focus on what they are both individually good at doing. This provides clients with provable large-scale storage that has a long track record, but with the transaction support and accountability that blockchain provides.
Both communication and storage are straddled by the InterPlanetary File System project, known as IPFS. Even though IPFS has a developed ecosystem and is fairly mature, it is among the earliest applications that looked at blockchain from a new perspective.
The HTTP protocol can only download a single file from one machine at a time. However, IPFS has the capability of downloading a file’s pieces from several decentralized machines at the same time.
HTTP and TCP/IP are the venerable protocols that establish the lion’s share of online communication, while other models and protocols work on top of them. Even though blockchain will not replace any of the two protocols, some projects are trying to build standards for communication between blockchain-based applications. Here are some of the projects and protocols related to blockchain.
Cosmos aims to establish an ‘Internet of blockchains’ for extensive blockchains. There hasn't been much detail as to exactly how this approach will work, but it will be for the introduction of an intermediary token that acts as a trading mechanism between tokens from other blockchains.
Interplanetary Database (IPDB)
This database builds on top of BigchainDB offering some type of “network of databases”. Since IPDB recognizes that blockchain projects are becoming increasingly centralized, it aims to encourage users to store data in a governance model where there is no caretaker or single owner.
The Interledger protocol is released by payment solution Ripple. Its main aim is connecting different cryptocurrencies, but no more general blockchains. Interledger protocol abstracts banks individual wallets and payment gateways, thus allowing developers to code connectors between them.
Polkadot is another communications project that is associated with blockchain. The project introduced the concept of parachains in a paper last year. While Cosmos is centered on the exchange of tokens, the approach of Polkadot is mainly focused on the finalization of transactions.
Parachains help with the facilitation of communication between blockchains, however, they have no power when it comes to finalizing a transaction. Despite Polkadot having a viable approach, this project is still in the early stages of development.
Some of the other blockchain projects with the potential of disrupting IT operations
Other projects, such as Ethereum, fall into several categories. Below is a list of such projects.
Plasma - is a new proposal attempting to solve the core issues of blockchain with speed and scalability. Think of Plasma as a simpler version of Polkadot, but one that connects chains of state.
Scuttlebot - is a peer to peer log store that can be used as an uncomplicated database, or for messaging. Even though Scuttlebot is not explicitly an application for blockchain, it is has the same concept.
Project Bletchly - is Microsoft’s take on database, networking, virtual machines and consensus for blockchain. It works in combination with the blockchain for Azure as a service.
There are a few enterprises that have developed their forks of projects comprising the elements they need. A good example is Quorum created by JPMorgan Chase. Quorum is an Ethereum fork that increases privacy and other consensus mechanisms for the company.
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Issues with blockchain technology
In spite of some community members advocating for collaboration and standards, one of the major issues with blockchain technologies is that numerous projects are competing to resolve similar problems. For such technologies to metamorphosize into feasible elements, each one of them is required to concentrate on solving the issues holding blockchain technology from being adopted in the mainstream.
In this regard, IT Ops pros could do quite well if they carefully watched this space. Once these few issues are resolved, you might find yourself considering some of the options for blockchain technology to replace traditional computing.
To answer the big question on your mind right now, yes, with upcoming trends in modern computing there is a chance that communications, storage, and processing technologies will soon be replaced by blockchain-based technologies. However, this might not happen right away.
If you have any comments or questions regarding the disruption of traditional computing by blockchain, feel free to post it in our comment section below.