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NonStop, Blockchain and Distributed Ledger

by Keith Moore and Justin Simonds




Last Discover HPE made the announcement for mission-critical Blockchain.  This was an implementation of the R3 Corda product running on the HPE NonStop platform.  This was an exciting announcement given the significance and potential of Distributed Ledgers and many in the NonStop community are quite excited by the initial and ongoing announcements in this area.  But what is all this Blockchain/Distributed Ledger excitement about?

According to a 2017 Garter CEO Survey, most felt the impact of Blockchain (the name given to anything involving a shared ledger) would be major or transformational.   It’s not surprising given all the articles, YouTubes, webinars and consulting prognostications on Blockchain.  Consultants seem to be trying to outdo one another on the significance of Blockchain.  It goes from the most important invention since the Internet to the almost inconceivable – most important since: electricity, the wheel, printing press, etc.  I’ve seen many and while I doubt most of these, it is quite significant and may be truly disrupting.

Most of the hype or over-inflated expectations, as Gartner might say began with Bitcoin.  While Bitcoin did not necessarily invent many of the technologies for which it is known, Bitcoin assembled them in a unique and enterprising way.  The cryptocurrency was a refinement of digital currency.  Proof of work had been around for a while in the security area but Bitcoin was the first implementation that architected a way to actually pay for that work (mining coins).  The consensus model had been kicked around before but was well executed by Bitcoin.  The PKI capabilities were also around and well defined but structured into the Bitcoin architecture in a perfect fashion.  One’s public key can be shown to possess ‘x’ amount of Bitcoin based on the public, distributed ledger.  It can provide trust without intermediaries.  And that is the real breakthrough with Bitcoin.  The belief is that this non-intermediary trust can be achieved using Bitcoin’s underlying technology Blockchain.

Ideologically Bitcoin offers a lot of potential in terms of currency exchange and value.  Cross border transfers can take place in less than an hour for a very small fee.  This is great news to the third world and the unbanked who do have access to a smart phone and can get a Bitcoin wallet.  Bitcoin ‘supposedly’ has built in inflation protection.  Unlike countries that can simply print more money, there is a finite limit of 21 million Bitcoins.  There will be no more after that to artificial decrease its value.

Economic theory states when a country prints more currency it causes inflation thereby devaluing the currency.  Bitcoin has prevented that by mandating a fixed limit.  So third world citizens could put their money in Bitcoin instead of their countries currency which is subject to inflation, devaluation and a host of other issues.  In addition Blockchain has been seen as a solution to Governmental land grabs.  If someone has clear title on an immutable Blockchain a new Dictator might find it harder to create counterfeit land grants.  So many see large promise for the third world with this technology.  Of course resources for this would need to be provided by the First World.   The First World sees potential benefits themselves.

Although it is unlikely that powerful intermediaries (Banks, Telcos, Govermnments) will go away completely most are trying to find uses for Blockchains and Distributed Ledgers (DLT) to create efficiencies and reduce costs.  Usually if better trust can be effected there will be reduced complexity.  These are the areas where Blockchain/DLT may make a big difference in society and business.  This will be accomplished through smart contracts not cryptocurrencies.

A smart contract is a program that lives on the Blockchain or DLT.  It is a program that will run, on its own, based on external events.  I could setup a smart contract to buy certain stocks if the price decrease to a certain level and to sell stocks if the price increases to a certain level.  That would then occur without any involvement from me or anyone else.  Many ideas have been discussed for the tracking and authentication of anything of value.

DeBeers is supposed to launch its diamond blockchain this year.  Diamonds will be entered onto the blockchain as they are mined.  Their unique identifier.  Who cuts it and to which store it is shipped for sale.  Any buyer can check the pedigree of the diamond.  They can ensure proper mining procedures were done, based on human rights.  If the diamond is cleaned at some future point the owner can check to be sure the same diamond is returned after the cleaning.  In the healthcare area, many schools are requiring students to be vaccinated.  By placing child vaccinations on a Blockchain and allowing schools limited access to the vaccination records it can be verified that a child has received the required vaccinations.  The vaccination could trigger a payment to be made to the provider of the vaccine.  Additionally the Blockchain could alert the parents when it is time for a booster or an additional vaccine based on age.  The ideas are almost limitless.

What is interesting from a NonStop standpoint is the area of private, permissioned implementations where important, mission-critical information is being placed on a ledger.  When all is said and done there will be requirements for a mission-critical ledger.  Not all copies of a ledger will need that level of availability, security and scale but some will.  Those will be hosted on a NonStop platform.

Keith Moore                                                                                                   
Solutions Architect at HPE

Justin Simonds                                                                                               
Master Technologist at HPE