IT giant IBM goes all in on the blockchain, where the blockchain branch of the company frequently populates the news pages of the Web. Beside further details about the home-made blockchain solution Fabric, the company announced several new cooperatives and projects.
Slowly IBM shows its cards and discloses details about its Blockchain project Fabric. Fabric is the project the IT giant commits to the Hyperledger platform, on which the Linux Foundation gathers around 100 companies, from big banks to Airbus and IBM, aiming to develop standards for Blockchain technology. Up until now the Hyperledger project, however, achieved a remarkably small number of real projects, but remains in the state of ideas and concepts, while the actual blockchain revolution out there goes on and creates a growing market for cryptocurrencies and blockchain tokens.
Not a Blockchain, But a Toolkit?
Maybe the Linux Foundation and IBM now have the chance to catch up with the wildly growing markets of garage blockchains. At least IBM proudly presents further details on its Blockchain project Fabric. In a blog post, IBM tells the story of how software developer Dan started to use Fabric: “It’s the first project Dan has delivered using IBM Fabric Composer, and he’s amazed at how quickly his team was able to show the true value of blockchain to his customer stakeholders.”
What Fabric exactly is and does, is not exactly explained in the post. It just hints that the IBM Fabric Composer aims to make it easier for clients to build a blockchain, tailored to its business purposes. “It allows developers to start at the business level, modeling network assets, participants, and transactions. Applications can use standard interfaces to invoke transactions that create, delete and update assets, and then transfer them between network members. Fabric Composer also makes it easy to integrate the new blockchain solution with existing business systems of record, again accelerating time to value,” the blog post on IBM’s website explains.
So: Fabric is not just a blockchain, but more like a toolkit to build your own blockchain, designed for its unique purpose. But despite this openness, the architecture of Fabric is not random, but has its special properties, as the IBM website for Hyperledger points out: “Hyperledger Fabric enables confidentiality, scalability, and security in business environments.” A Fabric blockchain is permissioned, has confidential transactions, no cryptocurrency and no miner, but highly programmable smart contracts. In short, IBM takes all aspects of the blockchain it finds attractive – confidentially, smart contracts, immutability – but rejects the inconvenient things like transparency, mining and currencies.
First Projects: “Blockchain will Spark in 2017.”
With Fabric IBM already convinced some clients to test the software. On February 22, the company announced that Northern Trust had started the first commercial application of a blockchain for private equity management.
“While private equity returns can be attractive, the infrastructure supporting private equity has seen little innovation in recent years at a time when investors are seeking greater transparency, security, and efficiency,” IBM says. To address these needs, “Northern Trust and IBM built a security-rich blockchain, or distributed ledger solution, based on the Hyperledger Fabric. It is available for use for managing the administration of a private equity fund operated by Unigestion, a Geneva, Switzerland-based asset manager with $20 billion in assets under management.”
But this is not all. IBM seems to be confident that its blockchain branch will be successful in 2017. Gennaro Cuomo, vice president of IBM Blockchain, prognoses big things for this year and blockchains: “In 2017, you may see major blockchain networks spark and start. Companies are expected to put projects built on those networks into production, and new use cases are scheduled to be developed.” Cuomo’s statement on February 21 touched upon several exciting announcements about blockchain projects:
“Postal Savings Bank of China teamed up with IBM to determine whether this technology could be used to build an asset custody system. IBM Watson Health is collaborating with the Food and Drug Administration to study whether blockchain can be used to transfer health data effectively. In Dubai, a distributed ledger is even being explored as a means to track the import and export of goods.”
Also, IBM partnered with the world’s biggest clearing house, DTCC, to process the trade of derivatives on the Blockchain.
Blockchain has become “so more than just ‘the technology behind Bitcoin,’” Cuomo goes on, “the next year will be a busy one as companies begin to unearth its possibilities.” And IBM seems confident to play a significant role in the coming year of the blockchain.