How blockchain technology could affect the future of network engineering

Network architects, brace for the disruption blockchain technology will bring.

understanding blockchain

Blockchain, also referred to as distributed ledger, is the concept behind the success of Bitcoin and provides a dynamic digital register of transactions. Think of it as a database that’s distributed throughout a network. Information is continually shared and reconciled throughout multiple nodes and each one has an identical copy of the database. Transactions within this database are audited and agreed upon by consensus. This decentralized method of keeping track of changes ensures the ledger can’t be practically controlled by any one entity, eliminates the possibility of single-points of failure, and allows for the verification of transactions without the need for third-party intervention. Since each interaction is public, blockchain technology offers a reliable, incorruptible transaction-based infrastructure and the value it provides isn’t just limited to cryptocurrency.

This technology can be expected to influence multiple industries; even network architects should take heed and brace for pending disruption. Blockchain’s reliable peer-to-peer communication model can lend to more effective IoT ecosystems, software defined networking can be simplified by the blockchain ledger, and its distributed model of data storage should ring familiar with those anticipating the impending shift to cloud-based infrastructures. Whether or not you agree with the ideologies behind cryptocurrency, blockchain technology could very well change the network engineering space as we know it.

“Pretty much every single industry is going to be affected by blockchain technology,” says Roman Storm, blockchain developer at Blockchain Labs. “Applications can be developed and hosted within decentralized storage environments, data bases can be connected using smart contracts, and multiple blockchains can be connected to one another using Oracle’s cross-chain bridge technology, for example. The role of the network engineer would be ensuring reliable connections between particular blockchains.”

The overwhelming success in the adoption of the TCP/IP protocols which harkened the age of the Internet as we know it stemmed from their ability to provide low-cost connectivity. Similarly, as a new layer on top of the Internet, blockchain could help ease the overhead of managing and tracking large networks of devices without the need for a centralized controller.

This wouldn’t be limited to IoT either; think of a software defined network where the devices themselves would be able to directly communicate with one another to autonomously perform tasks like managing bugs, updating software or monitoring performance. Every process, task or interaction would be stored within a shared database. User management would be simplified and BYOD environments could accurately and reliably log the addition of new devices within the network.

Additionally, network management could be further simplified using self-executing smart contracts. A smart contract is a script stored in the blockchain which can be programmed to perform an action when certain requirements are met, allowing for the automation of multi-step processes. This could also allow for optimization or failover processes to initiate when the state of a network is experiencing certain conditions like packet loss or power outage.

The value of blockchain comes from its ability to be used as a mechanism of transferring assets, which makes it a dead-ringer for the financial industry where most efforts thus far have been focused, but at a fundamental level, those assets are just series of ones and zeroes. Whether that data is cryptocurrency or a UDP stream, anywhere a centralized datalink between two nodes is required could likely be affected by blockchain. As cloud-based architectures become standard for business applications, the traditional data center may not be the ideal facility to accommodate the expedient access of real-time data. With edge devices playing a greater role in networking and bandwidth speeds increasing to the double digits and beyond, data center infrastructure needs to adapt to the impending landscape to guarantee the rapid and seamless transfer of data.

Blockchain technology makes a distributed and cooperative cloud storage environment over a peer-to-peer network possible which would offer more resiliency and higher-speeds at a lower cost. Storage vendors that rent out their available space would provide the backbone for a storage-based blockchain. At a lower level, anyone with an internet connection and extra space on their hard drive can take part. Security isn’t an issue due to innate cryptographic functions and distribution addresses latency issues. Best of all, no one owns or controls your data but you. Seems farfetched, but early adopters like Storj are already offering services in this space.

The technology to achieve all of this might not be there yet, but it’s definitely picking up steam and everyone’s eager to jump aboard. IBM is offering its own blockchain for financial transactions. The Hyperledger Project from the Linux Foundation aims to apply blockchain technology to enterprise applications and even Microsoft’s Azure is adopting blockchain technology. No matter where you or what space you’re in, blockchain technology is the future of the Internet of Things, so prepare for disruption.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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