Welcome!

@ThingsExpo Authors: Elizabeth White, Nate Vickery, Yeshim Deniz, Pat Romanski, Liz McMillan

Related Topics: @ThingsExpo, Agile Computing, @CloudExpo

@ThingsExpo: Blog Post

Blockchain: Why It’s So Much More than Bitcoin By @EFeatherston | @ThingsExpo #IoT

An interesting feature about blockchain technology is that there’s no central authority or single source of the ledger

(Note: This is the first in a series of posts dedicated to the topic of blockchain technology.)

There's a new kid on the block of disruptive technology. Blockchain. A day doesn't go by that you can't find numerous articles about it. Topics range from how JP Morgan is making significant investments in exploring the technology, to the Republican GOP using blockchain to allow online voting in the recent Utah caucus.

It's definitely a hot topic of discussion. At times it sounds like blockchain is replacing cloud in discussions as the technology panacea that will solve all problems. On the flip side, one of the first statements I invariably hear when blockchain enters the conversation with clients is, "We're not interested in Bitcoin." For many, the terms blockchain and Bitcoin are synonymous.

Blockchain ≠ Bitcoin!

In a recent weekend tweetchat (#CIOChat hosted by Myles Suer, a business strategist at Informatica), blockchain was the topic of discussion. One of the threads in the chat centered on the challenge caused by the blockchain / Bitcoin association. Ryan Fay, CIO at ACI Specialty Benefits, said it best, "I can't wait to start a conversation about blockchain and not spend an hour talking about Bitcoin." This reflected the viewpoint of many in the chat.

The connection is understandable. If you do a Google search on blockchain, the top results inevitably pair the terms "blockchain" and "Bitcoin." Blockchain technology originated in the establishment of Bitcoin. It enables digital currencies like Bitcoin to work.

A colleague of mine, Zach Slayton, VP of Digital Solutions at Collaborative Consulting, gave the analogy of fish and water. A fish (Bitcoin) needs water (blockchain) to survive. But water (blockchain) does not need the fish (Bitcoin). So while Bitcoin needs blockchain to work, blockchain doesn't need Bitcoin to provide value.

(I'm not going to attempt to discuss the pros and cons of Bitcoin here. Those conversations can be almost as emotional as political discussions - and voluminous enough to fill books.)

What exactly is blockchain?
In simple terms, blockchain is a digital ledger. You can think of it as a spreadsheet. The blockchain ledger comprises a constantly growing list of transactions called "blocks" - all of which are sequentially connected. Each block has a link to the previous one in the list.

Once a block is in the chain it can't be removed, so it becomes part of a permanent database containing all the transactions that have occurred since its inception.

One of the more interesting features about blockchain technology is that there's no central authority or single source of the ledger, which means it exists on every node that's associated with it. Yes, every node has its own complete copy of the blockchain. As new blocks are added, they're also received by every node that participates. Distributed consensus and trust ensures the integrity of the system.

Instead of Bitcoin, think in terms of assets
If you look at blockchain through the lens of Bitcoin (or for that matter, cryptocurrency in general), it can provide a very limited view of blockchain's business value and usefulness. If instead, we think of it in relation to assets of all kinds, we see a landscape of nearly boundless potential.

In her book, "Blockchain: Blueprint for a New Economy," author Melanie Swan describes three categories of blockchain:

  • Blockchain 1.0 - Currencies. This includes currency transfers, remittances, and digital payment systems. This is the area most of us are familiar with as it is the territory of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
  • Blockchain 2.0 - Contracts. This extends blockchain into financial and marketplace applications. Assets include items such as bonds, stocks, loans, titles, and anything that has an implied agreement or contract.
  • Blockchain 3.0 - Organizing Activity. This takes blockchain out of the financial space and into areas such as education, government, health, and art. In these areas, asset types may be physical, digital, or human in nature.

In the second two categories, blockchain has far more potential than Bitcoin. And these applications are starting to garner significant interest throughout various industries.

Blockchain 2.0: Contracts
The potential benefits (and disruption) presented by blockchain in the financial services industry has not gone unnoticed. As I mentioned at the beginning, JP Morgan is making significant investments in exploring blockchain. Many in the financial services industry are starting to take a serious look at blockchain technology and its potential impact.

  • Oliver Bussmann, CIO of UBS says that blockchain technology could "pare transaction processing time from days to minutes."
  • Visa, Citi, and Nasdaq have invested $30M in the blockchain startup Chain.com.
  • DTCC (Depository Trust & Clearhouse Corp.) recently held a symposium on blockchain titled, "Embracing the Disruption." (DTCC acts as the trusted third-party clearing house for settling a majority of the securities transactions in the United States. Adoption of blockchain in the securities arena could cause a huge disruptive impact to their business model.)
  • In a recent article in Fortune Magazine, Christopher Giancarlo, a commissioner of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, expressed the view that blockchain could have helped save Lehman Bros. He said, "If an accurate [blockchain] record of all of Lehman's transactions had been available in 2008, then Lehman's prudential regulators could have used data-mining tools, smart contracts, and other analytical applications to recognize anomalies. Regulators could have reacted sooner to Lehman's deteriorating credit-worthiness."

It is worth noting that Bitcoin has no place in any of those discussions. This is purely about leveraging the technological benefits blockchain may provide to solve real-world business issues in the financial services sector.

Blockchain 3.0: Organized activity
Outside of the financial arena, blockchain could be used in some very out-of-the-box scenarios that one might not consider at first. As noted earlier, the use of blockchain to enable online voting during Utah's recent GOP primary is just one example.

This application of the technology clearly demonstrates the concept of distributed ownership. When I create my "vote asset" and it's placed on the chain, I don't own the chain but I do own my asset, which is my vote - and also a block in the chain. So every voter owns a block in the chain. These blocks become permanent records of each individual's assets and are immutably validated by consensus on the chain.

With that concept in mind, it's exciting to think about blockchain's potential in sectors and industries like government, education, and healthcare - just to name a few.

  • In Estonia, the government is using blockchain to secure over 1 million electronic health records (EHR). It's important to remember that patients own their individual EHR assets, the security and integrity of which are maintained within the blockchain. Rather than calling and relying on providers for record transferals, patients can transfer records themselves through the blockchain.
  • The United Kingdom's chief scientific advisor recently published a report entitled "Distributed Ledger Technology-Beyond Blockchain." In it, he states that the technology "can revolutionize services, both in government and the private sector."
  • During the weekend #CIOChat tweetchat I mentioned earlier, the topic of blockchain's potentially disruptive impact on education produced a lengthy chat that continued well beyond the weekend. Digital strategy advisor Stephen diFilipo, Digital Strategy Advisor, Peter Salvitti, CTO, Boston College, and Joanna Young, CIO, Michigan State University, all raised points of disruption and impact including:
    • Proof of learning and achievements
      • Credentials validation
      • Transcript verification
    • The concept of micro-learning and micro-credentials
  • In the world of the Internet of Things (IoT), IBM and Samsung jointly developed a proof of concept demonstrating a decentralized IoT telemetry system powered by blockchain technology.

We have miles to go and promises to keep
The great promise of blockchain extends far beyond its role as a platform for the successful operation of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Yet, for some applications under consideration, technological challenges including performance and scalability will need to be addressed.

As with any technology, blockchain is a tool, not a destination. Ultimately, as technologists, our job is to help the business achieve its goals - and reach its destination - by leveraging tools that provide business value.

I count having blockchain in our toolbox as a net positive, because as I've illustrated above, it's so much more than Bitcoin. I'm confident that as we progress forward, that association will slowly fade away.

More Stories By Ed Featherston

Ed Featherston is VP, Principal Architect at Cloud Technology Partners. He brings 35 years of technology experience in designing, building, and implementing large complex solutions. He has significant expertise in systems integration, Internet/intranet, and cloud technologies. He has delivered projects in various industries, including financial services, pharmacy, government and retail.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
"We've been engaging with a lot of customers including Panasonic, we've been involved with Cisco and now we're working with the U.S. government - the Department of Homeland Security," explained Peter Jung, Chief Product Officer at Pulzze Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Calligo, an innovative cloud service provider offering mid-sized companies the highest levels of data privacy and security, has been named "Bronze Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Calligo offers unparalleled application performance guarantees, commercial flexibility and a personalised support service from its globally located cloud plat...
"We are focused on SAP running in the clouds, to make this super easy because we believe in the tremendous value of those powerful worlds - SAP and the cloud," explained Frank Stienhans, CTO of Ocean9, Inc., in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 21st Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devic...
"The Striim platform is a full end-to-end streaming integration and analytics platform that is middleware that covers a lot of different use cases," explained Steve Wilkes, Founder and CTO at Striim, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"We provide IoT solutions. We provide the most compatible solutions for many applications. Our solutions are industry agnostic and also protocol agnostic," explained Richard Han, Head of Sales and Marketing and Engineering at Systena America, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
SYS-CON Events announced today that DXWorldExpo has been named “Global Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Digital Transformation is the key issue driving the global enterprise IT business. Digital Transformation is most prominent among Global 2000 enterprises and government institutions.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Datera, that offers a radically new data management architecture, has been named "Exhibitor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Datera is transforming the traditional datacenter model through modern cloud simplicity. The technology industry is at another major inflection point. The rise of mobile, the Internet of Things, data storage and Big...
DX World EXPO, LLC., a Lighthouse Point, Florida-based startup trade show producer and the creator of "DXWorldEXPO® - Digital Transformation Conference & Expo" has announced its executive management team. The team is headed by Levent Selamoglu, who has been named CEO. "Now is the time for a truly global DX event, to bring together the leading minds from the technology world in a conversation about Digital Transformation," he said in making the announcement.
"MobiDev is a Ukraine-based software development company. We do mobile development, and we're specialists in that. But we do full stack software development for entrepreneurs, for emerging companies, and for enterprise ventures," explained Alan Winters, U.S. Head of Business Development at MobiDev, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
While the focus and objectives of IoT initiatives are many and diverse, they all share a few common attributes, and one of those is the network. Commonly, that network includes the Internet, over which there isn't any real control for performance and availability. Or is there? The current state of the art for Big Data analytics, as applied to network telemetry, offers new opportunities for improving and assuring operational integrity. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jim Frey, Vice President of S...
SYS-CON Events announced today that DXWorldExpo has been named “Global Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Digital Transformation is the key issue driving the global enterprise IT business. Digital Transformation is most prominent among Global 2000 enterprises and government institutions.
In his opening keynote at 20th Cloud Expo, Michael Maximilien, Research Scientist, Architect, and Engineer at IBM, discussed the full potential of the cloud and social data requires artificial intelligence. By mixing Cloud Foundry and the rich set of Watson services, IBM's Bluemix is the best cloud operating system for enterprises today, providing rapid development and deployment of applications that can take advantage of the rich catalog of Watson services to help drive insights from the vast t...
SYS-CON Events announced today that EnterpriseTech has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. EnterpriseTech is a professional resource for news and intelligence covering the migration of high-end technologies into the enterprise and business-IT industry, with a special focus on high-tech solutions in new product development, workload management, increased effic...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Massive Networks, that helps your business operate seamlessly with fast, reliable, and secure internet and network solutions, has been named "Exhibitor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. As a premier telecommunications provider, Massive Networks is headquartered out of Louisville, Colorado. With years of experience under their belt, their team of...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloud Academy named "Bronze Sponsor" of 21st International Cloud Expo which will take place October 31 - November 2, 2017 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Cloud Academy is the industry’s most innovative, vendor-neutral cloud technology training platform. Cloud Academy provides continuous learning solutions for individuals and enterprise teams for Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, and the most popular cloud com...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloudistics, an on-premises cloud computing company, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Cloudistics delivers a complete public cloud experience with composable on-premises infrastructures to medium and large enterprises. Its software-defined technology natively converges network, storage, compute, virtualization, and ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that CHEETAH Training & Innovation will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct. 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CHEETAH Training & Innovation is a cloud consulting and IT training firm specializing in improving clients cloud strategies and infrastructures for medium to large companies.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Datanami has been named “Media Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Datanami is a communication channel dedicated to providing insight, analysis and up-to-the-minute information about emerging trends and solutions in Big Data. The publication sheds light on all cutting-edge technologies including networking, storage and applications, and thei...
The current age of digital transformation means that IT organizations must adapt their toolset to cover all digital experiences, beyond just the end users’. Today’s businesses can no longer focus solely on the digital interactions they manage with employees or customers; they must now contend with non-traditional factors. Whether it's the power of brand to make or break a company, the need to monitor across all locations 24/7, or the ability to proactively resolve issues, companies must adapt to...