Every year it seems, the cloud gets obsessed with a shiny new toy. Last year it was artificial intelligence and machine learning. This year, it’s blockchain and the various cloud platform companies are competing for your attention.
With Platform-as-a-Service, a company offers a variety of tools to help you develop applications on top of a given technology, like say AI or blockchain. Blockchain is best known as the digital ledger for managing the distribution of Bitcoin.
That ledger can have other purposes beyond managing digital currency, however, by providing a mechanism for tracking a variety of valuable assets in a business context. As a distributed system, you can’t hide data from anyone in the system because everyone can see all of the data across the ledger (even if you don’t know who everyone is).
This can have utility in financial services of course, but also in healthcare, government, insurance, and real estate to name but a few. The big cloud companies recognize this and they have started offering Blockchain-as-a-Service. While it’s very early days for business blockchain, these companies are trying to get ahead of the curve by packaging it as a set of services.
Much like any cloud toolset, the value lies in the fact the cloud company is doing all of the heavy lifting for you. You don’t have to build a set of blockchain development tools and understand all that goes into that because you can tap into whatever the cloud company is providing for you.
Hop on the bus, Gus
Microsoft got the ball rolling very early on when it announced a blockchain service at the end of 2015, and has been building upon it ever since. Earlier this year, IBM climbed on board when it announced a blockchain service built on top of the Hyperledger project. Just this week, Oracle joined the fray when it announced a new blockchain service at Oracle OpenWorld.
It’s highly likely given the nature of the cloud business, that others will join soon, but the idea is still so new, you’re probably not going to find a plethora of projects. Most are probably early-stage PoCs. Oracle wouldn’t share any customers using the service at this point — although it was just announced this week. IBM references a food safety application on its blockchain website. Microsoft, which started first offered several financial reference customers including Bank of America and R3, a consortium of banks.
While it’s clearly still early days, these companies see the potential to lure customers to their clouds using blockchain as bait. It’s hard to know how much any new technology will grow, but the cloud companies are placing some early bets here in the hopes of getting in the on ground floor of a cloud development opportunity.
Photo: By David Stankiewicz (Own work). Used under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons