Blockchain for everyone
If last year marked the start of AI moving into the mainstream, this year is for blockchain. IBM and Microsoft are both pushing blockchain -- their competing versions of blockchain, of course -- as the next big thing. It's a good time to start thinking about how your data center might be affected by the technology.
Blockchain is a shared, immutable ledger for recording the history of transactions, according to IBM's definition. Another way to define blockchain, according to WikiPedia, is a distributed database that contains a continuously growing list of ordered records or "blocks." Each block contains a timestamp and a link to a previous block. Once recorded, the data in a black can't be altered. Since everything is open and shared among peers, a blockchain database becomes an open distributed ledger of transactions.
People love blockchain because it makes it great for recording events, including transactions, medical records, and proving provenance -- authentic history -- of data. The technology's first use was around cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, but the underlying secure and distributed ledger has been embraced by numerous industries embracing the idea of a ledger with known identities on a controlled network; cryptocurrencies are built around the idea of anonymous users on a public network.
IBM has over 400 customers currently using its version of blockchain. Walmart is using blockchain to track where pork comes from in China. Maresk, the world's largest shipping company, is tracking the movements of shipping containers around the globe, helping to enhance transparency among shippers and customs agents, as well as helping to reduce or eliminate fraud and errors and shorten the time products spend in the process of being moved from point A to point B around the globe.
Closer to our green data center hearts, Energy-Blockchain Labs is using IBM's blockchain platform to log carbon emission trading in China. The "Carbon asset development" quota system encourages enterprises to decrease emissions and use low-carbon emission technology. Use of the online system and blockchain is expected to shorten the cycle for developing emission quotas and reduce the cost of monitoring and trading by 20 to 30 percent, enabling an open market of carbon trading using smart contracts while helping to address regulatory requirements.
While China is the world's largest source of carbon emissions, Energy-Blockchain Labs should also be able to expand its operations for carbon trading to and between other countries in the future, depending on the regulatory and incentive markets for emissions reduction in the future. It's possible for green data centers could get in on the action -- and potential profits -- by offering carbon reduction credits through improved energy efficiencies if they are using fossil fuels or switching to renewable energy and gaining more carbon credits to trade or sell.
Microsoft announced support for its blockchain network on the Azure cloud. Organizations using Azure will be able to create multi-member consortium blockchain networks with both public and private facing access. As a part of the larger Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, Microsoft is joined by Intel, Accenture, and more than two dozen other banks and companies in supporting its version of blockchain.
IBM's version of blockchain uses the Linux Foundation's Hyperledger Project framework and codebase. Needless to say, IBM and Microsoft's vision and versions of blockchain are different and not interoperable, leaving both sides to run around to gather up partners and encourage proliferation of standards that ultimately lead back to their respective clouds.
Regardless of the underlying tech, data centers will be touched by blockchain in many ways. Carbon trading and carbon credits are the most direct way, but blockchain's ability to automate contracts and authenticate data means a lot of different applications. Selling virtual machines will most likely be a blockchain-powered transaction in the future and anyone moving data in a regulated environment, such as financial and health care, will have blockchain "baked in" as a feature.
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