Bitcoin may still be the most famous application of blockchain technology, but the distributed, encrypted database architecture is now being applied to a range of other services, from different kinds of (non Bitcoin) financial transactions to anything else that requires secure tracking. And today, IBM laid out its claim for some of that new business: the IT giant announced a new set of blockchain services running on IBM Cloud and Docker, along with standards to run those services to meet security and regulatory compliance.
The advances come two months after IBM made its first waves with blockchain technology. First, it emerged that IBM is now investing in startups building blockchain-based services — coming in on a $60 million round for Digital Asset Holdings.
Then weeks later, IBM announced its intentions to work with blockchain technology itself, committing to launch a “blockchain-as-a-service” across its “IBM Garage” network of developer centers (now in New York, Tokyo, London and Singapore); and donating 44,000 lines of code to the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Project, effectively giving it a place at the heart of how it will be built.
Today’s news is significant because it shows how IBM is laying the groundwork for much larger organizations and enterprises to get involved in working with blockchain technology, beyond the smaller groups and startups that were targeted in February. There are already some organizations working with IBM on projects, including a Finnish shipping company, the London Stock Exchange, the Japan Stock Exchange and ABN Amro.
In a way, this makes sense: the larger enterprises are where IBM will make the most revenues and form the majority of its client base today.
It also fits with IBM’s wider strategy to build more new-wave services based around cloud technology to offset its legacy business, which continues to decline as enterprises update their IT systems. And it will help IBM keep an early-mover advantage here against others like Microsoft that are also keen on laying early groundwork in blockchain application development.
“We love blockchain technology because it holds the promise of supporting a very wide variety of industries,” Jerry Cuomo, vice president, Blockchain, IBM, said in an interview. “Yes, we recognize that it was made famous in Bitcoin, and that is a very particular type of use, but when we studied that and looked at blockchain’s design pattern, we decided that it works well in the context of cryptocurrency. But if you are building a blockchain that deals with health records or shipping logistics, financial data, or any reference data about products, there are rules regulatory rules and security you have to address.”
IBM’s new offering will feature a dedicated environment on the IBM Cloud that the company says “will allow production blockchain networks to be deployed in minutes.” Users will also have the option of using Docker containers by way of Docker Hub, featuring dashboards and analytics to monitor them, and also support and consulting services from IBM alongside that.
Key to this will also be the fact that transmissions and movements can be audited through log data.
On top of this, IBM is enhancing the functionality of IBM Blockchain for Bluemix, for developers looking to beta test applications. This will include access to the Linux Hyperledger code that gets updated in real time.
While companies like Digital Asset Holdings are putting a lot of emphasis on financial applications of blockchain — which is perhaps one of the most obvious areas for it — have been a number of moves from outside the world of finance that speak to its potential longer term. They include education, logistics, and even artists tracking their IP.