The enterprise blockchain industry is expanding at an exponential rate, and the fuel that is driving this adoption is the host of traditional tech companies that are entering the game as solutions providers.
IBM, much like they did at the dawn of the computer age, have gotten a foot in the door in terms of providing enterprise-grade blockchain solutions; however, their competition is growing. Businesses that want to take the plunge into blockchain can now choose from several recognizable companies.
Microsoft, Oracle, Amazon, are looking for a significant market share, but then there are others like Hewlett Packard and Lenovo who are also offering their expertise in providing solutions to others.
However, what has become clear with all these companies entering the water is that competition is making the providing of blockchain solutions more intricate. The technology itself is a complex and adaptable one, the space is nascent and ever-changing, and blockchain is not the only one fighting for a piece of the pie in terms of new technologies.
A three-prong approach
Dr. Ajay Dholakia, Principal Engineer Lenovo Data Center Group, explained to me how the company is approaching blockchain. He breaks down how they are using it internally, how they are aiming to be a part of the ecosystem and finally, how they are rolling out blockchain solutions for their clients.
“What we are doing I categorize in three parts,” Dholakia told me. “The focus has been on enterprise blockchain, and the first part is that we are using it, piloting and then deploying live, in our supply chain.”
“We are identifying a business process and then picking out the participants and then putting that business process on a blockchain-based implementation so that we get some learning going.”
“The second category is participating in the ecosystem, so for example, joining the projects and consortiums that different bodies are setting up. For example, membership in HyperLedger project or membership in Ethereum enterprise activities – but also joining in where some industry consortia are being set up.”
“The third part is creating some offerings, potentially some solutions and services that we can take to our customers. It allows us to benefit from the experience of our usage, as well as participating within the ecosystem. So this third step is where we would help enable our customers to deploy whatever they want to do with it.”
The deployment of blockchain solutions is this new big business that several companies are trying to hone in on. However, it is not as simple as providing a cookie-cutter blockchain solution that fits all; there is a lot of work that goes behind giving a potential solution.
Dr. John O’Shea, Manager at Smart Solutions Lenovo Data Center Group, explains the first step in building a solution – which is figuring out if this is the right way to go about things.
“We have to ask: ‘what does this company want with blockchain?’ We have spoken to our customers, and we have done investigation on why use blockchain; which is an important question. You need to see if it is important for your business because in some business it may not be accessible,” explains O’Shea.
“We look at more than how we can do this as an end to end solution, but also as infrastructure because blockchain, as it expands, it needs a solid infrastructure. We have done a lot of investigation with Intel, who have helped us in terms of the infrastructure element.”
As O’Shea starts to delve into the building of a blockchain solution for a company, it becomes clear that there is a need for agility and flexibility. A company may not need a blockchain, but rather a distributed ledger protocol. On the other hand, it may well benefit from having an entire technology stack infrastructure.
“Hyperledger Fabric is a great technology or protocol, more a protocol. Ethereum is more of a technology. But if you combine the technologies – Hyperledger with Ethereum and other elements – you get a robust solution,” O’Shea gives as an example.
Four layered solution
This differentiation between protocols and technologies involved in blockchain means that there are different layers of solutions. And, for a company like Lenovo trying to provide tailor-made solutions, the sophisticated offerings they can put forward are astounding.
“I see the solution as having four layers,” explains Dholakia. “Infrastructure at the bottom, then protocol; could be HyperLedger, Ethereum, R3, etc. The next layer is the application where we exploit that platform layer to become blockchain-enabled, and then the fourth layer is the industry where the use case will be, the business process that you are putting onto this stack.”
“It could also be a horizontal use case as well, like supply chain, which permeates different industries.”
“We are agnostic to the platform. We could work with Hyperledger, and we could work with any of the others. It is beneficial because we see these options working through interoperability in the next few years.
“On this system stack, you can see blockchain as one option, but also, there is AI, IoT, Edge, the cloud these are all available. So more than one of these could be powering the next level up, and they could be running on the next layer down, which is infrastructure, which is our interest from a data center space.”
A multi-faceted approach
Through O’Shea and Dholakia’s explanations of what goes into offering a client a blockchain solution, one can start to draw a few secondary conclusions. The adoption of this technology has been relatively slow, while the interest has been high.
Many companies pique their interests quickly as the possibilities are quite endless; there are many ways in which blockchain can be implemented into almost any business, to help all kinds of efficiencies.
But, this is also a reason why things are slowed as creating a solution to fit is an arduous task that takes a lot of understanding before implementation can take place. Lenovo, in its approach to blockchain, is still learning on the fly; using blockchain for its own needs while offering what they have learned to clients.
No doubt the blockchain revolution is in full swing, but it is an ever-growing entity. As the industry matures and expands, so will its development and deployment be bettered.