(Note: This is part of a continuing series of posts dedicated to the topic of blockchain technology.)
The cloud wars rage on. The room is full of 800lb gorillas that have been battling over market share and supremacy for several years now. You know who the key players are—Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and IBM—all still standing. Three years ago, Gartner described the market as ‘still evolving and maturing’. However, last year, they described the market as ‘in a state of upheaval’ with many providers shifting their strategies as they struggle to obtain market share.
Pricing battles have always been ongoing in the cloud wars. Surprisingly, in one sense, the pricing battles have made pricing a smaller consideration in the decision-making process. While there will be no abatement in that battle, vendors are searching for other ways to impact the decision-making process, such as by adding new features and capabilities. These include a variety of platform and software as a service (PaaS/SaaS) offerings which can be very attractive to organizations looking to explore new technologies without having to make a significant capital investment and purchase.
Enter the Blockchain – the Latest Technology Disruption
It seems lately you can’t have a discussion around new and disruptive technologies without the word "blockchain" entering the conversation. Blockchain technology, at its basic, is a distributed ledger. In an earlier post, I discussed that while blockchain has close association with bitcoin, it is also being looked at for a variety of situations well beyond digital currencies.
Hype around blockchain is definitely high. There was a recent article that even suggested blockchain could clean up American politics. While I have my doubts about that, there is no question blockchain has the potential as a disruptive technology to impact many businesses in a positive fashion. How to research and investigate the usage of the technology to a deep enough level in a cost-effective fashion has become the challenge for many businesses.
Could the Cloud Come to the Rescue?
Setting up an environment to test and research blockchain is not a trivial undertaking. Blockchain is a distributed, peer-to-peer technology. It requires an ecosystem with multiple systems in order to be able to develop, research, and test. I recently wrote about the benefits of leveraging the public cloud for test environments. One of the big benefits is the ability to stand up, deploy, test, and break down environments. No large hardware investments are needed, nor any capital investment. The cost involved is only during the time the environments are up and being used.
From a cost perspective, this is a definite plus. We still have the complexity of setting up and configuring the blockchain ecosystem. This is where the concept of offering Blockchain as a Service (BaaS) can provide added value. Imagine if your cloud provider not only could provide you the necessary flexible infrastructure to investigate blockchain, but in addition, they could offer you a full blockchain ecosystem to start working worth.
Blockchain as a Service (BaaS) - Ask and Ye Shall Receive
Many of the leaders in the cloud space have seen the potential benefits of offering Blockchain as a Service (BaaS) to their customers and have started providing some level of BaaS capabilities.
- Microsoft(Azure) – In November of last year, Microsoft fired the first shot. They announced a partnership with ConsenSys to provide the Ethereum Blockchain as a Service (EBaaS) in their Azure environment. Offering the service will allow “customers and partners to play, learn, and fail fast at a low cost in a ready-made dev/test/production environment” according to Marley Gray, a director in Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise organization. In April, Microsoft also announced partnering with the R3 Consortium of 43 banks to help spur distributed ledger amongst the R3 members.
- IBM(BlueMix) – In February of this year, IBM announced they would be offering Blockchain as a Service using the Hyperledger. The release stated, “Using IBM’s new blockchain services available on Bluemix, developers can access fully integrated DevOps tools for creating, deploying, running, and monitoring blockchain applications on the IBM Cloud.”
- Amazon (AWS) – In May of this year, Amazon announced a collaboration with the Digital Currency Group, one of the largest investors in blockchain firms. The agreement will provide Blockchain as a Service to members of DCG’s portfolio so they “can work in a secure environment with clients who include financial institutions, insurance companies, and enterprise technology companies.”
Another Weapon in the Arsenal
In the rapidly changing landscape of the cloud wars, no single technology or offering will be the silver bullet to winning the battle. Not every business looking to move to the cloud necessarily will have a need or interest in blockchain. That being said, for those businesses that are considering blockchain, having BaaS as an offering will be a checkbox when evaluating different vendors. The announcements by Microsoft, IBM, and Amazon over the last 8 months demonstrate the vendors see it as a benefit to have the offering available in their portfolio. As interest in blockchain continues, and we move past the hype into the reality of actual implementations, it could become an even more powerful weapon in the every escalating and changing cloud wars marketplace. There is a common phrase, often attributed as a Chinese proverb/curse, "May you live in interesting times." Blockchain and the cloud wars will definitely keep things interesting for some time to come.