IBM pushes open standards with cloud-based blockchain

IBM Corp. was the latest company to put blockchain services on the cloud. The firm last week announced has released a version of the decentralized ledger technology for its cloud-based developer platform, Bluemix.

Whereas Microsoft has opted for Ethereum as the basis for its blockchain, IBM is using Hyperledger, a nascent project from the Linux Foundation that will also be able to run smart contracts.

Hyperledger is a collaborative project with partners ranging from around 30 companies, including startups and banks. It’s attempting to create an open standard for blockchain technology, in a similar model to Linux’s open standard for operating system development.

IBM donated blockchain code to the project. So did Blockstream, a firm that develops technologies to enhance bitcoin’s blockchain, and Digital Asset Holdings, a financial services blockchain company that is already running pilot projects in the commercial sector.

IBM has been advocating for an open approach to blockchain development since at least February, when its director of global blockhain offerings John Wolpert gave a keynote speech at the Block Chain Conference in San Francisco. It was there that he argued for a move beyond Ethereum and bitcoin.

“At present, each blockchain network that supports the concept of a smart contract has developed their own proprietary way of writing them,” Wolpert said more recently, adding: “We believe standards are important to accelerate the pace of adoption, by both customers and ISVs alike.”

Big Blue also made efforts to move Hyperledger beyond BlueMix by making its donated Hyperledger code available on DockerHub. It has also created a security solution to help lock down blockchain networks in an attempt to overcome security concerns about running them in the cloud.

The company has created what it calls an auditable operating environment for cloud-based blockchain networks, using tamper-resistant storage of the cryptographic keys that support many blockchain operations. The tamper-proofing reports any unauthorized attempts at physical access, and it also runs blockchain nodes in protected environments to stop any data leaks, which are a common worry in multi-tenant public cloud operations.

This is the latest in a line of blockchain-related developments for IBM. The company also opened a New York city-based BlueMix Garage in April, one of a series of centres designed to bring together experts in cloud and blockchain technology.

Hyperledger is still a relatively young project, and many aspects of it are still being hammered out. It has already taken pitches from Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin, though, who reportedly hopes to integrate that technology with Hyperledger.

“As this is an open source initiative, interoperability and portability are important characteristics to be met,” said Kyle Donovan, a spokesperson for the Linux Foundation, adding that the group’s primary focus is creating a single code base.

“In parallel, we have kicked off a project to define the set of requirements and use cases that the community would expect to be able to support with the Hyperledger Project’s deliverable(s).”


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Danny Bradbury
Danny Bradbury
Danny Bradbury is a technology journalist with over 20 years' experience writing about security, software development, and networking.

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