Blockchain promises to fundamentally solve the issues of time and trust to address inefficiencies and costs in industries such as financial services, supply chains, logistics, and healthcare. Blockchain's key features include immutability and a shared ledger where transactional updates are performed by a consensus-driven trust system, which can facilitate a truly digital interaction between multiple parties.
This digital interaction is not only bound by systemic trust, but ensures that the provenance of the transactional record maintains an immutable track record of interaction between parties. This very characteristic lends itself to culpability and non-repudiation, and incentivizes fair play. With the blockchain system design, we are attempting to build a system that has implied trust. This trust system leads to reduced risks, and various applied technology constructs such as a cryptography, encryption, smart contracts, and consensus essentially create gates to not only reduce risk but to also infuse added security into the transaction system.
We will be covering the following aspects of blockchain in our discussion for this chapter:
- Defining a blockchain
- Building blocks of blockchain solutions
- Fundamentals of the secure transaction processing protocol
- Applications of blockchain
- Blockchain in an enterprise
- Enterprise design principles
- Business considerations for choosing a blockchain framework
- Considerations for choosing a blockchain framework
At a technical level, a blockchain can be defined as an immutable ledger for recording transactions, maintained within a distributed network of mutually untrusting peers. Every peer maintains a copy of the ledger. The peers execute a consensus protocol to validate transactions, group them into blocks, and build a hash chain over the blocks. This process forms the ledger by ordering the transactions as is necessary for consistency. Blockchains have emerged with bitcoin (http:// bitcoin.org/) and are widely regarded as a promising technology to run trusted exchanges in the digital world.
A blockchain supporting a cryptocurrency is public, or permissionless, in the sense that anyone can participate without a specific identity. Such blockchains typically use a consensus protocol based on proof of work (PoW) and economic incentives. In contrast, permissioned blockchains have evolved as an alternative way to run a blockchain between a group of known, identified participants. A permissioned blockchain provides a way to secure interactions between a group of entities who share a mutual goal but don't fully trust each other, such as businesses that exchange funds, goods, or information. A permissioned blockchain relies on the identities of its peers, and in so doing can use the traditional Byzantine-fault tolerant (BFT) consensus. BFT is a protocol that has been widely used in IT solutions to reach a consensus on the state of faulty nodes of a network. This protocol is based on the Byzantine General's Problem, whereby a group of general need to reach a consensus on their strategy but one of them maybe treacherous.
Blockchains may execute arbitrary, programmable transaction logic in the form of smart contracts, as exemplified by Ethereum (http://ethereum.org/). The scripts in bitcoin were predecessors of this concept. A smart contract functions as a trusted, distributed application and gains its security from the blockchain and underlying consensus among its peers.
Discerning permissions from a permissionless blockchain is vital for enterprises looking to utilize the blockchain platform. The use case dictates the choice of technology, which depends on consensus systems, governance models, data structure, and so on. With permissioned blockchains, we can do some of the things we already do but in an incrementally better way, which can be significant. In the chart that follows, you can see how a consortium of banks could use Hyperledger, a type of permissioned blockchain, for clearing and settlement without relying on a central clearing house:
Clearing house have been created because banks do not fully trust each other and thus as the intermediary between trades, reduces the risk the one party does not honor his terms leads to a never-ending debate around permissioned versus permissionless blockchains, and while this chapter will not address the debate, blockchain can present a way to either transform or disrupt the current business and business models. Most use cases in regulated industries embark on permissioned blockchain models.
This is due to regulatory requirements and the economic viability of transaction processing, and while permissionless blockchains provide a platform for new business models such as Peer-to-Peer (P2P) transactions and disintermediation-led models, by definition permissionless blockchain architecture relies on a very compute-intensive compute model to ensure transactional integrity. Regardless of the choice in blockchain models, blockchain provides a lot of possibilities for transformation and disruption.
Blockchain has extraordinary potential as a technology platform. In the enterprise, blockchain can provide:
- A design approach that keeps transaction data, value, and state inherently close to the business logic
- Secure execution of business transactions, validated through a community, in a secure process that facilities the trust and robust transaction processing that are foundational to blockchain
- An alternative, permissioned technology that conforms to existing regulations
- A shared ledger: The shared ledger appends only the distributed transaction record. Bitcoin blockchain was designed with the intent to democratize visibility; however, with blockchain, consumer data regulations also need to be considered. Using a properly configured SQL or noSQL distributed database can achieve immutability, or append-only semantics.
- Cryptography: Cryptography in a blockchain ensures authentication and verifiable transactions. Blockchain design includes this imperative because of the focus on assuming computational hardness and making encryption harder for an adversary to break. This is an interesting challenge with bitcoin blockchain because of the economic incentive and its system design. When you're working in a less democratic or permissioned business ledger network, considerations around cryptography change.
- Trust systems or consensus: Trust systems refer to using the power of the network to verify transactions. Trust systems are central to blockchain systems in my view; they are at the heart of blockchain applications, and we believe trust system is the preferred term over consensus system since not all validation is done through consensus. This foundational element of trust dictates the overall design and investment in a blockchain infrastructure. With every new entrant in the blockchain space, the trust system is modified, forming variations that are specialized for specific blockchain use cases. Trust, trade, and ownership are staples of blockchain technology. For inter-company transactions, the trust system governs transactions for trade between participating companies. Much work still needs to be done to define the best trust system for specific use cases, such as P2P and sharing economy models with B2B models.
The following use diagram gives a good idea of these concepts:
The four building blocks are generally accepted and well understood. They have existed for decades prior to blockchain. Shared ledgers are an evolutionary change, similar to the move to computer-based spreadsheets, but the underlying business rules have stayed the same.
What else should be included in enterprise blockchain proposals? Here is a non-exhaustive list of other capabilities to consider:
- Auditing and logging: Including auditing and logging in a blockchain solution can help with addressing regulations for the purposes of non-repudiation, technology root cause analysis, fraud analysis, and other enterprise needs.
- Enterprise integration: It's also worth considering how the solution will be integrated into the enterprise:
- Integration with the incumbent Systems of Record(SoR): The goal here is to ensure that the blockchain solution supports your existing systems such as CRM, business intelligence, reporting and analytics, and so forth
- Integration as a transaction processing system: If you want to preserve the system of record as an interim approach to adopting blockchain, integrating it as a transaction processing system makes sense
- Design with the intent to include blockchain: The path of least disruption to your existing systems will accelerate enterprise adoption of blockchain
- Monitoring: Monitoring is an important capability for addressing regulations and ensuring high availability, capacity planning, pattern recognition, and fault identification.
- Reporting and regulatory requirements: Being prepared to address regulatory issues is also very important, even for interim adoption of a blockchain as a transaction processing system. It's recommended that you make connectors to your existing SoR to offload reporting and regulatory requirements until blockchain is enterprise-aware, or the enterprise software is blockchain-aware.
- Enterprise authentication, authorization, and accounting requirements: In a permissioned enterprise world (unlike permissionless bitcoin blockchains), all blockchain network participants should be identified and tracked. Their roles need to be defined if they are to play a part in the ecosystem.
We mentioned previously that cryptography is one of the core building blocks of a blockchain solution. The fundamental security of the bitcoin blockchain is the elegant cryptographical linkage of all major components of the ledger. Specifically, transactions are linked to each other, mainly through the Merkle tree. A Merkle tree is based on the concept of a tree data structure where every leaf node has a hash calculated of its data and where the non-leaf node have a hash of all of their underlying child. This method provides a way to ensure the integrity of the data, but also provides privacy characteristics by allowing one to remove a leaf that is deemed private but leave the hash, thereby preserving the integrity of the tree. The Merkle tree has its roots incorporated into the block header. The block header includes a reference to the block headers that precede it.
That cryptographically enforced interconnectivity fosters the stability and security of distributed ledgers. At any point, if a link between any of the components is broken, it leaves them exposed to malicious attacks:
Transactions are also cryptographically connected to the rest of the blockchain structure, mainly through the Merkle tree. Once a transaction is modified within a block, with all other parts remaining stable, the link between all transactions of the block and its header are broken:
The new resulting Merkle tree root does not match the one already in the block header, hence providing no connectivity to the rest of the blockchain. If we proceed to change the Merkle tree root in the block's header, we will in turn break the chain of headers and thus the security model of the blockchain itself. Therefore, if we only change the contents of a block, the rest of the blockchain components remain stable and secure, especially as the block headers provide the connecting links by including a hash of the previous block header in the header of the next block.
Blockchain has already been a business disruptor, and I expect it to significantly transform industries, the government, and our lives in the near future.
A significant divided exists between the cryptocurrency and Initial Coin Offering (ICO) world, and the world of regulated business. The latter consists of banks and financial institutions working collectively to assess market potential and operational efficiencies.
Both sides of this division have taken advantage of the momentum around blockchain to further their interests. The blockchain ecosystem has challenged the status quo and defied all odds to make a point—often behaving like an adolescent. It is driven by new business models, promises of disintermediation, and interesting technological innovations. As blockchain gains momentum, the value of bitcoin and other cryptoassets is seeing a meteoric rise, and now that ICO has emerged, it has defied the traditional regulatory framework around fundraising.
On the enterprise side, there are a growing number of industry initiatives around clearing and settlement to enable faster settlement and interbank transfers, transparency through digitization, symmetric dissemination of information in supply chains, and creating adhoc trust between Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
There's a common theme here—that blockchain is here to stay. As it continues to evolve and generate innovative solutions for industry use cases, it will keep inching towards maturity and deliver on its promises of efficiency and significant cost savings built on the foundation of trust.
Business networks, underpinned by blockchain technology, may bring transformation or disruption to industries, but in any case, in order to thrive, blockchain needs an economic model. If disruption is the aim, investments in technology, talent, and market synergy can be combined with the lure of economic incentives. ICOs, for example, typically rely on tokenomics, a term that describes the economic system of value generation in those networks. The token is the unit of value created by the system or network, either through making a platform for providers or consumers, or through co-creating a self-governing value network in its business model that various entities can use to their advantage for creating, distributing, and sharing rewards that benefit all stakeholders.
The ICO front, largely funded by cryptocurrencies, has defied current fundraising mechanisms in venture capitalism (led by crowdfunding projects), and, importantly, the struggle to discern the difference between a security and utility coin is disruptive in principle.
ICOs are looking to create an economic system built on the principles of decentralization, open governance (or self-governance), and transparency, a system that rewards innovation and eradicates disintermediation. ICOs saw some initial failures and some successes, but they nevertheless provided a preview of the future, where cryptoassets will become a basic unit of value—with valuation and fungibility defined by the network they originate from—fueling an economy built for and around innovation.
On the enterprise front, there's been more focus on understanding the technology and reimagining ecosystems, business networks, regulations, confidentiality and privacy, and the business models that impact blockchain networks in various industries. Enterprises looking to explore blockchain want to see quick proof points, use cases that can demonstrate results quickly and help them innovate with blockchain.
Blockchain is helping industries move to a more symmetric dissemination of information by providing built-in control of transactional data, provenance, and historical context. This can lead to more efficient workflows and transformed business processes. Many early projects, however, didn't focus on the core tenets of blockchain, leading to disintermediation, decentralization, and robust self-governance models. There's a good reason for it, though: industries and conventional businesses tend to be focused on their current business agenda, models, growth, and preceding all, regulatory compliance and adherence. This emphasis on current business operations means they're not naturally inclined towards disruptive models.
With any new technology, there is always a learning curve. As blockchain evolved and we began to work with regulated industries, we quickly recognized that in such industries, there are important design considerations to address, things such as confidentiality, privacy, scalability, and performance. These elements can have significant cost implications when it comes to designing blockchain networks, as well as the business models that govern these networks. These challenges have not only been interesting to solve; they've had a positive effect on conventional, regulated industries and businesses by re-energizing innovation in these organizations and inviting the best talent to join in tackling these challenges. Businesses are seeing that ecosystems and networks driven by blockchain technology will contribute to progress and success.
Permissioned networks (regulated, conventional, and enterprise business networks) may also need to begin uncovering an incentive model to motivate organizations to join a platform that promotes the idea of creation, distribution, and sharing of rewards, benefiting all stakeholders. The economic incentives behind tokenomics can't be blindly adopted by a lot of conventional businesses and industries, but that doesn't mean those industries shouldn't start the journey of exploring possible business models that will enable value creation and elevate some desperately needed modernization efforts.
Blockchain technology promises to be the foundation for a secure transaction network that can induce trust and security in many industries that are plagued with systemic issues around trust and accountability. From a technology point of view, blockchain facilitates a system of processing and recording transactions that is secure, transparent, auditable, efficient, and immutable. These technology characteristics lend themselves to addressing the time and trust issues that current-day distributed transaction systems are plagued with.
Blockchain fundamentally shifts the multi-tier model to a flat-tier transaction processing model. This carries the promise to fundamentally disrupt industries by disintermediation, by inducing efficacy in new system design or simply by creating new business models.
Disintermediation indicates reducing the use of intermediaries between producers and consumers, such as by investing directly in the securities market rather than going through a bank. In the financial industry, every transaction has historically required a counter party to process the transaction. Disintermediation involves removing the middleman, which by definition disrupts the business models and incentive economies that are based on mediation. There's been a wave of disruption in recent years as a result of digital technologies, which have, in turn, been driven by marketing insights and the desire for organizations to provide a richer user experience.
Blockchain is a technology that aims to catapult this disruption by introducing trade, trust, and ownership into the equation. The technology pattern represented by blockchain databases and records has the potential to radically improve banking, supply chains, and other transaction networks, providing new opportunities for innovation and growth while reducing cost and risk.
Now that we've looked at where blockchain is emerging in various industries, let's talk about what principles should guide the use of blockchains in an enterprise. Why would an enterprise want to apply blockchain technology to one of its systems or applications?
Organizations will need to establish criteria for use during the application design process to help them assess where they can best apply blockchain technology. The following are some examples of criteria that could help an enterprise determine which applications or systems would benefit from it:
- Applications that adhere to trade, trust, and ownership: As described previously, these three tenets—trade, trust and ownership—are fundamental to any blockchain system. Trade and ownership imply the churn and the transfer of ledger entries, while trust points to the trustless nature of a transaction system.
- Applications that are fundamentally transactional in nature: There is often a debate about why we can't achieve the benefits of blockchain from a distributed database, that is, a no-SQL or a relational database. But a multi-party transaction is what makes an application suitable for blockchain. There needs to be long-running processes with numerous micro-transactions that will be verified and validated by the blockchain-powered transaction system. However, databases can still be used for persistence or replication to fit enterprise systems. Other considerations include small data set sizes that could increase over time, logging overhead, and so on.
- Business networks that are comprised of non-monopolistic participants: This third criteria addresses distributed versus decentralized computation models. Blockchain trust systems can work within any model; however, the trust aspect of a blockchain business network comes from multi-party participants with non-monopolistic participation (the consortium permissioned network model). Oligopolistic participation might be acceptable (the private permissioned network model), but it's essential to devise a trust model that assures the prevention of centralized control, even with rational behavior of the participants. Many internal use cases do not adhere to this principle and are more for distributed application models.
For enterprises trying to either understand or determine where to employ blockchain meaningfully, there's a simple approach to thinking through use case selection. An appropriate use case for a sustainable blockchain solution will achieve long-term business objectives and provide a strong return on technology investment.
This starts with an enterprise problem—an issue big enough for the enterprise to expend resources/time—and the recognition of cohorts that have the same problem. When companies realize that an enterprise problem is also an industry problem (such as security lending, collateral lending, and so on), they've found a use case where the promise of blockchain has the most potential.
While organizations are determining the benefits of various aspects of blockchain for their enterprise applications, they also need to recognize the fragmentation of the whole blockchain landscape. There are numerous innovative approaches available for solving a specific challenge with blockchain. A lot of vendors offer variants of the trust system that are specialized to address particular use cases, and they've defined the use cases that will benefit most from blockchain in a given industry, for example. Such specialized vendors often promise a fast solution to meet consumer demands for quick digital interactions.
The tenets of blockchain can be instrumental in delivering rapid consumer-driven outcomes such as decentralized, distributed, global, permanent, code-based, programmable assets, and records of transactions. We should exercise caution with regards to thinking of blockchain as a hammer to solve every enterprise application challenge, but it can be of use in many transactional applications.
Now, let's discuss how blockchain is perceived in the enterprise and some of the challenges that arise with enterprise adoption of the technology. In the following section, I'll focus on three areas that help set the tone for blockchain in an enterprise context.
A public blockchain can operate with extreme simplicity, supporting a highly distributed master list of all transactions, which is validated through a trust system supported by anonymous consensus. But can enterprises directly apply the model of the trustless system without modifying the fundamental tenets of blockchain?
Do organizations view this disruptive technology as a path to their transformation or merely a vehicle to help them improve their existing processes to take advantage of the efficiencies that the trust system promises? No matter what, enterprises will want the adoption of blockchain to be as minimally disruptive to the incumbent system as it can be, and that won't be easy to achieve! After all, the design inefficiencies of the incumbent system are what have compelled the enterprise to consider this paradigm shift. A lot of the concepts and use cases for blockchain are still distant from enterprise consumption.
The first industry to experiment with and adopt blockchain was the financial services sector, as it has been facing down the fear of being disrupted by another wave of start-ups. Like many industries, it is also driven by consumer demands for faster, lower-cost transactions. Financial services has a well-defined set of use cases including trade financing, trade platform, payment and remittance, smart contracts, crowd funding, data management and analytics, marketplace lending, and blockchain technology infrastructure. The uses for blockchain we've seen in this industry will likely permeate to other industries such as healthcare, retail, and the government in the future.
The blockchain is a nascent technology that brings together a lot of good ideas, but it still has some maturing to do for enterprise use. The lack of defined standards to promote interoperability between multi-domain chains could be a challenge. Enterprises that adopt it will therefore need to build competency so that they can contribute to further innovation and help with necessary blockchain standards development. This, in turn, could help bring unique opportunities to both improve existing business practices and develop new business models built in a blockchain-powered trust web:
The notable technology elements of blockchain are:
- Technology behind the trust system: Consensus, mining, and the public ledger
- Secret communication on open networks: Cryptography and encryption
- Non-repudiation systems: Visibility to stacks of processes
While the implications of blockchain technology may be profound, organizations should devise a set of enterprise-specific criteria that can be applied to existing or new projects that may gravitate towards enterprise blockchains.
Given the versatility of blockchain technology and the current hype curve, enterprises should use a chain decision matrix as a tool to ensure that they have a structured approach to apply a foundational technology to a business domain. This approach will also lend itself to a consistent blockchain infrastructure and trust system management, which will prove vital as many application-driven chains evolve and the demand for enterprise visibility, management, and control grow.
Any enterprise adoption of blockchain should have the goal of disrupting incumbent systems. Thinking about integration with enterprise systems of record is one way to work towards this. In this manner, an enterprise can implement blockchain-driven transaction processing and use its existing systems of record as an interface to its other applications, such as business intelligence, data analytics, regulatory interactions, and reporting.
It's vital to separate the infrastructure for enterprise blockchain technology from the business domain that uses chain technology to gain competitive advantage. Blockchain can be seen as an enterprise chain infrastructure that's invisible to businesses and operating behind the scenes, while promoting the interprise synergy between various business-driven chains. The idea is to separate the business domain from the technology that supports it. A chain application ought to be provisioned by a business domain that has a suitable trust system. The trust system, as I've stated repeatedly, is central to any blockchain endeavor, and therefore it should be appropriate to the needs of a given business application. The cost of the infrastructure and compute requirements will be dictated by the choice of trust system available to an enterprise.
By separating out the blockchain technology infrastructure, designing an architecture around a pluggable trust system by using trust intermediaries and a design that promotes flexibility, and a modular trust system, the business can focus on the business and regulatory requirements, such as AML, KYC, nonrepudiation, and so on. The technology infrastructure for blockchain applications should be open, modular, and adaptable for any blockchain variant, thereby making the blockchain endeavor easy to manage.
Interprise synergy suggests driving synergies between numerous enterprise blockchains to enable inter and intra enterprise chain (interledger) connections. In this model, the transactions would cross the various trust systems, giving visibility into the interactions to enterprise governance and control systems. Fractal visibility and the associated protection of enterprise data are important to consider when looking at these interactions between business units and external enterprises. An invisible enterprise chain infrastructure can provide a solid foundation to evolve enterprise connectors and expose APIs to make incumbent systems more chain-aware.
Interprise synergy will flourish due to conditional programmable contracts (smart contracts) between the business chains:
How can an enterprise know if it is ready for blockchain? More importantly, when considering blockchain consumption, should its focus be on integration with incumbent transaction systems, or an enterprise-aware blockchain infrastructure?
To take full advantage of the promise of enterprise blockchain, an integrated enterprise will need more than one use case and will need to drive interprise synergy. The most successful blockchain consumption strategy should focus on technology initially and then consider integration with existing enterprise business systems. This will facilitate collective understanding and accelerate enterprise adoption of the blockchain, hopefully on the path of least disruption.
As stated previously, blockchain technology promises to be the foundation for a secure transaction network that induces trust and security in industries that are plagued with systemic issues around trust and accountability. It aims to generate market and cost efficiencies.
In the past few years, as blockchain technology has come to maturity, we've focused on how enterprises and businesses can use the technology to relieve pain points and herald new business models. Organizations that have begun to see blockchain's potential are now beginning to reshape business networks that are burdened by the systemic costs of archaic processes, paperwork, and technology.
In the recent past, organizations would run internal business systems and IT infrastructure out to the internet to harness the collaborative potential of interconnected and accessible systems. Blockchain technology is taking this to the next level, offering true digital interaction facilitated by trusted business networks. In the internet era, successful enterprises adopted and adapted to technological challenges, whereas in the blockchain era, business, rather than technology, is the driver for proliferation.
While blockchain technology is interesting on its own, there are a lot of other mechanics of a business network that ought to be evaluated as well, including:
- Consensus models: Which trust system is most fitting for your business network?
- Control and governance: What entities are permitted to do what? Who will own the investigative process if there's a system anomaly?
- Digital asset generation: Who creates an asset in the system? Who governs it?
- Authority for issuance: In a system that's truly decentralized, the notion of authority does not hold together. So in a blockchain network, who would be responsible for governance, culpability, and eventually regulations?
- Security considerations: How will the network address enterprise security, including new security challenges imposed by a shared business network?
We imagine a purpose-built blockchain network that's focused on a plurality of business domains, for example, mortgages, payments, exchanges, clearing, and settlement of specific asset types. In an enterprise context, we visualize a centralized network in which like-minded business entities share a consensus consortium. There are several practical reasons to back this idea of a centralized network, including the following:
- The use of domain-specific business language, which leads to the construction, management, and governance of smart contracts as proxy business representations
- A defined asset type, which leads to governance, management, and valuation (for exchange, fungibility, and so on) of the digital representation of assets
- Appropriate regulation, given that every industry and business network is regulated separately, and therefore the burden of adhering to regulations and other related costs can be shared in the business network
- Other related business functions such as analysis, analytics, market data, and so on
We've now covered the business drivers for enterprise blockchain, so next let's consider what can ensure the sustainability and longevity of a blockchain network.
Blockchain-based business networks are continuing to evolve and grow, and as they do, there will be no turning back on core issues such as trust models, data visibility, and exploiting a network for competitive advantage.
Focusing on sustainability can seem paradoxical because it promotes open collaborative innovation while at the same time locking down constructs such as consensus or trust systems and the governance systems for managing assets, smart contracts, and overall interaction in a multiparty transaction network. Blockchain system design needs to take all of this under consideration.
A business network with a successful system design needs to align well with the blockchain tenets of trade, trust, ownership, and transactionality in a multi-party scenario. Without building on these core tenets, business networks may not realize the promise of blockchain technology in a sustainable way.
Here are seven design principles to support and sustain growth in a blockchain business network:
- The network participants need to have control of their business
- The network has to be extensible, so that participants have flexibility to join or leave the network
- The network must be permissioned but also protected, to safeguard competitive data while facilitating peer-to-peer transactions
- The network should allow open access and global collaboration for shared innovation
- The network must be scalable for both transaction processing and encrypted data processing
- The network has to be able to accommodate enterprise security and address new security challenges
- The network needs to coexist with established systems of record and transaction systems in the enterprise
In any enterprise, blockchain adoption is driven by three principles: the business blueprint, the technology blueprint, and enterprise integration.
The following are some indispensable things to consider when choosing a blockchain framework according to these three principles:
- Business blueprint: Blockchain promises to create a business network of value based on trust. To do this, it's vital to understand how various blockchain frameworks handle network interaction patterns, inefficiencies, and vulnerabilities.
- Technology blueprint: If technology is to align with business imperatives, organizations need to make appropriate technology and architecture choices for their needs. Transactions per second (TPS), enterprise integration, external system integration, and regulatory and compliance requirements may be taken under advisement here. These decisions are all part of the technical due diligence necessary to properly budget for blockchain adoption.
- Enterprise integration: Integrating blockchain into enterprise systems, especially an adjacent system, is an important business and technology consideration (because downstream transaction systems affect critical business systems) as well as a cost point. Based on my experience, if organizations don't focus on adjacent system integration early in the planning, it can impede adoption, because it has a significant cost impact on blockchain projects.
In the following sections, I cover each of these design considerations in a bit more detail.
- Open platform and open governance: The technology standards a business chooses will set the stage for enterprise blockchain adoption, compliance, governance, and the overall cost of the solution.
- Economic viability of the solution: Whatever blockchain framework an organizations chooses should provide cost alignment to its existing business models, charge backs, compute equity, and account management. This flows into ROI.
- Longevity of the solution: As organizations aspire to build a trusted network, they'll want to ensure that they can sustain the cost and operation of the network so that it can grow and scale to accommodate additional participants and transactions.
- Regulatory compliance: Compliance issues are closely tied to transaction processing and can include events such as industry-specific reporting and analysis for business workflows and tasks, both automated and human-centric.
- Coexistence with adjacent systems: A blockchain network needs to be able to coexist with the rest of the enterprise, network participants, and adjacent systems, which may have overlapping and complementary functions.
- Predictable costs of business growth: Business growth depends upon predictable metrics. Historically, a lot of industries have focused on transactions per second, but that measurement differs from system to system based on system design, compute costs, and business processes.
- Access to skills and talent: The availability of talent affects costs as well as maintenance and the longevity of a blockchain solution as the industry and technology evolve with continued innovation.
- Financial viability of technology vendors: When choosing vendors, it's vital to think about their viability when it comes to long-term support and the longevity of your blockchain solution. You should examine the long-term vision and the sustainability of the vendor or the business partner's business model.
- Global footprint and support: Blockchain solutions tend to involve business networks with a global reach and the related skills to support the network's expansion with minimal disruption.
- Reliance on technology and industry-specific standards: Standards are critical, not only in helping to standardize a shared technology stack and deployment, but also in establishing an effective communication platform for industry experts to use for problem solving. Standards make low-cost, easy-to-consume technology possible.
Blockchain vendors offer various specializations, including:
- Variant trust systems: Consensus, mining, proof of work, and so on.
- Lock-in to a single trust system
- Infrastructure components that are purpose-built for particular use cases
- Field-tested design through proof of concept
The technological risk of a vendor not adhering to reference architecture based on standardized technology set is a fragmented blockchain model for the enterprise.
From a business point of view, an open standards-based approach to blockchain offers flexibility, along with a pluggable and modular trust system, and therefore is the most ideal option. This approach keeps an enterprise open to specialized blockchains such as Ripple, provides a provisioning layer for the trust system, and offers a separate business domain with the technology to support it.
When organizations consider the technology implications of blockchain, they should start with the premise that it is not just another application. It's a production network that involves risks and costs to ensure correct upkeep and maintenance.
Here are some important things to ponder when evaluating blockchain's technological impact.
Identity management is a complicated, involved topic, especially in regulated industries where identities must be managed and have significant business consequences, such as around activities including Know Your Customer (KYC), Anti-Money Laundering (AML), and other reporting and analytics functions:
- Permissioning is the concept of member enrollment certificates (eCerts) and transaction certificates for each member (tCerts); these enable an entity to be permissioned and identified while transactions are completed
- End user identity, which is maintained by a participating entity in the blockchain network, is the mapping of the LDAP/User registry to the tCerts or transaction ID for the sake of tracing (Know Your Customer, as well as Know Your Customer's Customer)
Other identity management considerations include:
- An LDAP or existing user registry won't go away and has to be considered as a design point, since there's typically been significant investment and security policies in place for mature authentication and authorization systems
- Trust systems are at the heart of blockchain technology and must pave the way for trust with identity insertion (for use cases that require transactional traceability)
- The identity on blockchain and for blockchain
- Identity acquisition, vetting, and life cycle
- Alignment with trust systems based on use cases
Scalability is both a business and a technology consideration, given the way downstream transaction systems can affect critical business systems. Technology choices for scalability, for example database choices for the shared ledger, adjacent system integration, encryption, and consensus, bring about a system design that can accommodate the predictable costs of growth in network membership or transactions.
- The physical IT infrastructure layer, which includes use case-specific issues such as EAL5, network, and infrastructure isolation requirements.
- The blockchain middleware layer, which includes requirements for crypto modules, encryption levels, encryption on data storage, transfer and data at rest, and visibility of data between participants in the network.
- The blockchain consensus (trust system layer), which is central to blockchain and necessary to guarantee basic data store properties. If there are more players in the network, they have to bring capital equity to scale. This is about building a shared data store with enterprise data qualities at a lower barrier to entry. Consensus, even minimal consensus, is necessary to ensure this on the architecture in place. There's now a divide between cryptocurrency-based trust systems and non-cryptocurrency-based trust systems. The former models, such as POW/PoS, aren't sustainable for enterprise use cases aspiring to create permissioned blockchains.
The crypto-economic model refers to a decentralized system that uses public key cryptography for authentication and economic incentives to guarantee that it continues without going back in time or incurring other alterations. To fully grasp the idea of blockchain and the benefits of cryptography in computer science, we must first understand the idea of decentralized consensus, since it is a key tenet of the crypto-based computing revolution.
The old paradigm was centralized consensus, where one central database would rule transaction validity. A decentralized scheme breaks with this, transferring authority and trust to a decentralized network and enabling its nodes to continuously and sequentially record transactions on a public block, creating a unique chain—thus the term blockchain. Cryptography (by way of hash codes) secures the authentication of the transaction source, removing the need for a central intermediary. By combining cryptography and blockchain, the system ensures no duplicate recording of the same transaction.
Blockchain system design should preserve the idea of decentralized digital transaction processing, adapting it into a permissioned network, while centralizing some aspects of regulatory compliance and maintenance activity as needed for an enterprise context.
Having enterprise support for blockchain is important for the same reasons as the reconsideration of estimation effort. Remember that blockchain should not be thought of as just another application. It's a production network that involves risks and costs for upkeep and maintenance, and it won't be able to simply use existing applications for development, infrastructure, and services.
Consensus guides the trust system and drives technology investment in blockchain application infrastructure, and therefore is at the heart of blockchain. Also, there isn't one consensus type that fits all use cases. Use cases define the interaction between participants and suggest a most appropriate trust system through consensus models.
Consensus is a way to validate the order of network requests or transactions (deploy and invoke) on a blockchain network. Ordering network transactions correctly is critical because many have a dependency on one or more prior transactions (account debits often have a dependency on prior credits, for example).
In a blockchain network, no single authority determines the transaction order; instead, each blockchain node (or peer) has an equal say in establishing the order, by implementing the network consensus protocol. Consensus consequently ensures that a quorum of nodes agree on the order in which transactions are appended to the shared ledger. Consensus, by resolving discrepancies in the proposed transaction order, helps guarantee that all network nodes are operating on an identical blockchain. In other words, it guarantees both the integrity and consistency of transactions in a blockchain network.
Choosing a blockchain system design may be guided by crypto library and encryption technology as well. An organization's use case requirements will dictate this choice and drive technology investments in blockchain application infrastructure:
- Asymmetric: RSA (1024-8192), DSA (1024-3072), Diffie-Hellman, KCDSA, Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECDSA, ECDH, ECIES) with named, user-defined, and brainpool curves
- Symmetric: AES, RC2, RC4, RC5, CAST, DES, Triple DES, ARIA, SEED
- Hash/message digest/HMAC: SHA-1, SHA-2 (224-512), SSL3-MD5-MAC, SSL3-SHA-1-MAC, SM3
- Random number generation: FIPS 140-2 approved DRBG (SP 800-90 CTR mode)
Designing a blockchain network to coexist with existing systems of record in an organization is important as a cost consideration. Integration should be through both business and technology issues, since downstream transaction systems impact essential business systems. By working with many enterprises, I've found that integrating blockchain with the adjacent systems has a significant cost impact on their blockchain projects. It really needs to be addressed early in the planning stages, so not to adversely affect enterprise adoption.
It's also important to think about operational issues. By safeguarding the elements of trade, trust, and ownership—and the inherent properties of blockchain such as immutability, provenance, and consensus—a trust system promises to help eliminate redundant and duplicate systems and processes. These duplications cost an organization significant resources, leading to slower transaction processing and associated opportunity costs. One goal with blockchain adoption should be to address the central pain point of the existing process. The aspiration is for a transparent ledger that increases trust, saves time and significant costs, and provides better customer service.
As for network extensibility, designing for extensibility means taking future growth into consideration as you plan the implementation. Extensibility measures a system's ability to extend and the level of effort that will be required to implement extensions. Extensibility is important with blockchain business network design, not only to accommodate for the dynamic nature of business (with all its regulations, competitive pressures, and market dynamics), but also to accommodate for network growth (the addition of regulators, market makers, disruptions, service providers, and so on).
The following are some design considerations to help ensure network extensibility:
- Flexibility with membership:A blockchain network may start with a finite group of participants and roles, but new participants could later want to join the network, and others may want to leave. Therefore, you have to consider the mechanics of membership changes, including access to (shared) data. The member type is also an important thought when designing for extensibility, as the roles and type of members may change over time.
- Compute equity: There's a split between trust systems based on cryptocurrency and trust systems based on compute equity, so this is a fairly new concept. The types of participants and their business interests in the network are determinants of long-term sustainable infrastructure costs and maintenance. For instance, cost models of regulators may differ greatly from cost models of the primary beneficiary of a blockchain-powered business network.
- Shared business interests: Blockchain networks promise specific advantages for businesses, such as reduced risk, a reliable and predictable transaction network, lower compliance costs, and so on. But these shared interests can lead to other operational issues, such as data sharing and ownership as entities join and leave the network. Since regulations around data ownership evolve, as well as industry requirements for the durability of data, these should be evaluated carefully when you design a blockchain system.
- Governance: Governance includes managing technical artifacts such as technology infrastructure and governing data and smart contracts in a blockchain network. Layering governance in the following categories is recommended:
- Blockchain network/technology governance
- Blockchain data governance
- Blockchain smart contract governance
- Blockchain transaction management governance
When designing for extensibility, the goal should be to ensure that the blockchain network has sustainable operational elements and business growth elements. For example, in a sustainable model, every participant could deploy the chaincode that governs its own business process as it accepts and deals with digital assets, while also putting business participants in control of changing business processes, policies, and regulatory requirements.
There are a few other considerations to keep in mind apart from the previously mentioned aspects. They are briefly explained in the following sections.
A consensus model will never go to 0 because when NoSQL became the standard, various NoSQL systems solved their problems by understanding this CAP theorem, and the RDBMS enterprise community held steadfast to their ACID properties. Blockchain might well provide the primitives to break CAP and maintain ACID. Here are some thoughts.
- C—Consistency: Consensus guarantees only one truth of what happened and in what order
- A—Availability: The fact that all calls to the blockchain are asynchronous allows the invoking application to make progress while ensuring consensus and durability (chaining also guarantees this)
- P—Network partition: Consensus, again, prevents split-brain with conflicts when things get back together after a network partition
- A—Atomicity: The chaincode programming model is an all-or-nothing behavior, which allows you to group activities together. Either everything happens, or it doesn't.
- C—Consistency: We believe the new world of NoSQL fudges this one. I believe this means the same as the C in CAP.
- I—Isolation: Isolation indicates that two transactions are serialized, which is exactly what block construction and chaining does.
- D—Durability: The chaining and replication all over the network ensures that if one or more nodes go down, data won't be lost. This is why everyone wants to bring a node and why those nodes should not be not co-located.
In secure service containers (SSCs), the software, operating system, hypervisors, and Docker container images cannot be modified. Certificates may be included in the SSC so that they can probe themselves into being genuine to a remote a party. For example, including an SSL certificate when building SSCs helps ensure that you're speaking with a genuine instance, since the SSL certificate always stays protected (encrypted) within the SSC.
According toWikipedia, a hardware security module (HSM) is a physical computing device that safeguards and manages digital keys for strong authentication and provides cryptoprocessing. These modules traditionally come in the form of a plugin card or an external device that attaches directly to a computer or network server.
Administering a high-security device such as an HSM can be a real challenge in relation to sufficient security and controls. In fact, today's standards mandate certain methods and levels of security for HSM administrative (and key management) systems.
Adopting blockchain in an enterprise will require a balancing act. Organizations will not only have to run, manage, and maintain their existing infrastructure; they'll also need to help pave the way for this new computational model that promises to bring transformation.
In regulated industries, organizations could face a dual impact on the cost of compliance, since even a new technology platform still needs to adhere to established regulatory frameworks and proven technology architecture standards and design. Enterprises considering blockchain can look towards a pragmatic approach by adopting a doctrine of layered defense, combining multiple mitigating security controls to help protect their resources and data. With the layered defense approach, digital assets/smart contracts as well as ledger data will be guarded.