The bitcoin blockchain is becoming one of the most exciting enterprise software technologies of this decade and now is becoming available as part of popular platform as a service(PaaS) technologies. In recent weeks, both IBM and Microsoft have announced the availability of private blockchain as a service (BaaS) technologies as part of the Azure and Bluemix cloud respectively.
The blockchain is popularly known as the technology that powers the infrastructure of the bitcoin cryptocurrency. From a functional standpoint, the blockchain provides a decentralized, time stamped, ordered record of all transactions in a Bitcoin network that can be verified at any time. These simple capabilities represent the first practical answer to profound computer science problems based on the trust of nodes in a decentralized network.
Despite the popularly if bitcoin, most experts are convinced that the opportunities around the blockchain are exponentially larger that the market developed by popular crypto-currency. Industries like legal, asset management, decentralized B2B, trade settlement and many others are starting to be disrupted by the blockchain. To become mainstream, the blockchain requires general programming models and distribution mechanisms included in popular software development platforms. Enter the world of the blockchain as a service (BaaS).
Blockchain and PaaS
The emergence of blockchain based programming platforms such as Ethereum or Eris Industries allows the creation of software solutions powered by the blockchain. However, the provisioning, scalability and maintenance of private blockchain environments is far from being an easy endeavor. This problem gets even worse if we consider that high scale applications are likely to leverage multiple blockchains for different tenants, geographies etc. From some perspective, the magic of the blockchain relies on the model for storing and querying data and not on the infrastructure behind it.
To address those challenges, companies like Microsoft and IBM have started including blockchain capabilities as part of their PaaS offerings. This model allows developers to provisioning, scale and operate blockchain environments without being concerned about the underlying infrastructure. Additionally, devops will leverage a consistent and familiar PaaS management experience to operate blockchain solutions.
A few days ago, IBM announced the availability of its blockchain as a service (BaaS) solution as part of which includes devops services as part of IBM Bluemix. IBM also announced the open source availability of the Hyperledger project which attempts to make the blockchain completely open source and availability to enterprise developers.
Microsoft has also actively working in a BaaS initiative as part of the Azure PaaS. Recently, Microsoft announced a partnership with Consensys to enable Ethereum as part of Azure environments. Since then, Microsoft has been very active adding some of the top blockchain solution providers in the market to its BaaS partner network.
The BaaS model represents a very important step towards the mainstream adoption of blockchain technologies. Even though IBM and Microsoft will be the first to admit that BaaS is still highly experimental, we can already see some of the tangible benefits of this model such as the following:
- Seamless blockchain provisioning experience: Both Bluemix and Azure provide a very simple model to create blockchain as part of its PaaS environments.
- Elastic scalability: BaaS models simplify the experience of adding and removing nodes to a blockchain network.
- Global availability: By leveraging technologies like Azure and Bluemix, developers can provision blockchains in any region of the world.
- Interoperability with other PaaS services: BaaS models facilitate the implementation of blockchain applications that leverage many of the existing PaaS services in a consistent manner
- Sophisticated devops experience: The experience of deploying, managing and operating blockchain networks becomes simpler in PaaS environments.
- Simpler programming models: By abstracting the underlying blockchain infrastructure, BaaS platform should be able to offer simpler programming models to create blockchain applications.
AWS, Salesforce and Google to Follow
IBM and Microsoft are leading the charge in the adoption of BaaS architectures. Based on the popularity of blockchain technologies, we should expect popular PaaS providers like AWS, Google and Salesforce to quickly join the movement. Making BaaS a first class citizen of mainstream PaaS technologies will only help to increase the adoption of the blockchain as one of the building blocks of enterprise applications.