Editor’s Note: This article is paid for by IBM as a Diamond-level sponsor of LinuxCon North America, held Aug. 22-24, 2016, and was written by Linux.com.
Blockchain technology first burst onto the scene as the underpinning of Bitcoin digital currency. Since then, open source distributed ledger technology has continued to evolve into an unparalleled asset tracker. It brings new efficiencies and much-needed transparency to online transactions in a world where assets move and change hands at Internet speeds.
Blockchain is poised to go mainstream and forever change how business is done. It now has a defined purpose in tracking asset exchanges and histories in nearly every industry from banking, to wholesale and retail, supply chains, manufacturing, health care, legal, the Internet of Things, government, and more.
In this interview Donna Dillenberger, an IBM Fellow and part of the Watson Research Center, discusses where blockchain technology stands today. IBM is also a member of The Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger project – the distributed blockchain technology – and we asked her about that project, too.
Linux.com: IBM contributed to The Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger project. Tell us about that and how that project is being received thus far.
Donna Dillenberger: Hyperledger is one of the most popular open source projects in history. In the first week of its launch, hundreds of companies donated code. IBM alone donated 44,000 lines of code. It provides a vehicle for anyone to collaborate on features and the results are so much better than what any one vendor could do alone.
Linux.com: IBM has made several blockchain-related announcements recently with heavy focus on the cloud aspect and security. Security is often approached as a last minute paste-on in a number of technologies, but considering that blockchain’s applications concern high-value transactions, and security was its claim to fame, what was overlooked in terms of security or why does it need more security?
Dillenberger: Blockchain was originally designed for digital currency transactions, specifically Bitcoin. But now blockchain’s uses are expanded to include uses in organizations, like health care and government that have additional and different security requirements and specific compliance needs. To ensure that blockchain is truly enterprise-ready for different verticals and different applications with different rules, more security and compliance issues must be firmly addressed.
For example, blockchain members may require their data to be encrypted and not visible to all public entities. Hyperledger blockchain provides a configurable option to encrypt data saved on the blockchain.
And, Blockchain participants may require that all records be signed so anonymous users would not be allowed. Hyperledger blockchain provides anonymity and when configured, would require that records are digitally signed. Identity verification is also very important. For verification, users need to see that a blockchain transaction comes from you and not someone who’s impersonating you.
Blockchain participants may also want to specify which subset of blockchain users can see data on the blockchain. This is also a configuration option that allows Hyperledger blockchain members to optionally set permission controls to the blockchain data.
Linux.com: Does blockchain have consumer applications as well? Or, if not yet, what might future consumer applications look like?
Dillenberger: Enterprises service consumers, so they’re actually one and the same in that aspect. Ensuring that data is secure and accurate, products are authentic and up to par, services are delivered as promised, and that transactions are fast and secure, benefits both enterprises and consumers.
The interesting thing is that we consumers can own our own data again with blockchain. Consumers can put their medical records, car data, and other information in blocks and ensure it is all accurate and never tampered with, which they can then share with enterprises or health care professionals or other entities as they see fit and for a variety of purposes.
Blockchain can also help consumers in other ways. For example, users can verify where the ingredients in their food come from and they can see information about their food down to the farm level. They can see if pesticides or antibiotics were used, whether the food was raised in an environmentally friendly or humane way, and whether employees along the chain were treated fairly and working in good conditions.
The same is true of other goods. For example, consumers could identify which diamonds came from conflict free mines and where they were polished and traded and certified. We have one IBM customer building a digital ledger for diamonds using blockchain.
Consumers could also see who owned an asset in the past that they are buying now – for example, a painting, house or a used car.
The records on blockchain are protected so you can look at reliable information and make purchasing decisions based on the things you care about.
Linux.com: Since blockchain is so useful for so many different use cases and industries, why isn’t it mainstream already?
Dillenberger: It’s technically challenging to add the needed security and compliance layers, as well as new sophisticated features, to blockchain to optimize it for enterprise use. Here at IBM it took many months to do the work thus far. So adapting it to many different use cases and applications takes a while.
But organizations in many industries are testing blockchain technology now to see where and how it best fits for them. The interest and response has been immense. Just like we saw with the popularity of The Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger project from its start, you can expect blockchain to become increasingly prevalent soon.
This article is sponsored by IBM LinuxONE, an open-source Linux server. Learn more about IBM LinuxONE for Blockchain, and receive a complimentary report from Constellation Research on Blockchain Security.