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Bringing the benefits of blockchain to the enterprise database

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factory workMany businesses want to enjoy the benefits of blockchain regarding the visibility and provenance of the data. However, they don’t necessarily want or need the complexity that comes with its decentralization feature. Our research focuses on simplifying the usability and reducing the management overhead for use cases where a trusted cloud provider operates the solution.

Although some businesses might not need complete decentralization, they still require non-repudiation and provenance functionality. Despite clients’ trust in cloud providers, they are still mutually distrusted. We are building a centralized solution that offers blockchain properties, while safeguarding correct behavior among clients.

In open blockchains such as Ethereum and Bitcoin, decentralization is a major concern. But in the enterprise world, many use cases simply don’t require decentralized trust. We found that businesses are starting to use blockchain as a type of datastore so they can enjoy the provenance and immutability of the data. At the end of the day most of these solutions are being executed and deployed at a single cloud provider, therefore not really decentralized.

Learn how industries are revolutionizing business with IBM Blockchain

For example, the Department of Motor Vehicles manages a vast amount of data about cars. Different organizations such as insurance companies consume this data and want the ability to prove that the data is genuine based on accessing its provenance and features like non-repudiation.

Why not a blockchain platform that can be used like any other database?

Our goal is to allow the blockchain platform to be used similar to any other NoSQL or SQL or document database. This will enable faster adoption of blockchain in the enterprise, while offering something that is easier to use than the existing decentralized platform. By merging the features of blockchain with a regular database, we offer these businesses two benefits. First, we simplify data management. Second, we give them the blockchain database with a layer that uses cryptography and offers most of the benefits of blockchain without the complexity.

We’ve been working on an exciting use case as part of the EU-funded project C4IIoT, where one of the partners from the automotive industry wants to collect information from IoT devices in their cars, including: temperature, brakes, whether or not the car overheated, indications that a part needs to be replaced, and more. This data covers the entire history of the vehicle, and can be combined into a kind of passport for the car. In this way, if there is a problem or accident, the insurance company can access the blockchain database and get the information from the IoT devices. All of this information is immutable and helps us prove with high confidence exactly what happened to the car, whether there was a problem with the brakes, or the engine, or any other component. Even if the data shows there is a defect in one of the car models, we can be sure that no one tampered with the data.

Say we have an HR or payroll system in a large corporation that uses a blockchain database. If someone made an innocent mistake that listed an employee as single instead of married, or they forgot to update the person’s file with a new promotion, this could significantly impact salary and benefits. In a database with no provenance, the cost of understanding what happened, how it happened, and when it happened, is hugely expensive.

It is also very difficult, or sometimes impossible, to trace the history and roll back the data to see when exactly it happened. But, with a blockchain database, we have provenance. As soon as someone realizes a mistake was made, they can immediately find out when it happened, who made the mistake, and the root cause, and then resolve the problem.

Think of all the systems that manage sensitive internal information inside a corporation — and all the ways a system like this could benefit by enabling provenance of the data. Take, for example, a problem related to disk corruption that modified a few bits. This would be very difficult to understand and investigate how and when it happened, unless you are using a blockchain database.

Taking a deep dive into your data

We deliver this database in a straightforward way. There is no need to program it differently from a regular database, yet it allows a business to get a deep dive into their data with built-in trust and security — in a way that lets you find the root cause and find a way to fix it.

Being ahead of the curve is sometimes an obstacle in its own right. We’re currently conducting market research to explore how enterprises can use this kind of database, and are looking for partners to begin a pilot for the proof of concept. This will help us further evaluate the performance and soundness of the APIs we are developing and test their robustness in additional real-world scenarios.

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