Blockchain running on the mainframe? Really? Yes, really. First, let me share a quick explanation of what Blockchain is. Simply put, it’s a means of recording data digitally — especially financial transactions — in which an encrypted ledger of verified events is distributed across multiple networked computers. Once an event or record is proven to have taken place, for example a sale or a purchase, it’s forged into an unalterable “block” of data. These blocks are bound together into “chains” of events which prove that a given sequence of events took place in a certain order at a particular time.
Blockchain is more than Bitcoin
You may be thinking ‘I get Blockchain in theory, but how is it applied in practice’? The best-known example of Blockchain technology in action is Bitcoin. Because they’re reliable, permanent and transparent, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are of great interest to banks and financial services organizations. They offer an alternative to mainstream ways of conducting transactions, which are often slow, costly and unreliable.
While Blockchain is important for financial transactions it is so much more than that. Its scope extends into lots of important industry sectors, and that’s what makes it even more exciting — and disruptive. In fact, some people believe that Blockchain could transform the way businesses transact to the same extent that the internet transformed information sharing. Media companies are applying Blockchain technology to allow customers to pay for content one piece at a time. In healthcare, it’s being used to securely share patient records with external service providers. In manufacturing and retail, it’s being used to securely track the provenance of parts or goods across supply chains. And in the public sector, Blockchains are already helping to reduce fraud and corruption by creating permanent, authoritative records of land deals.
A match made in heaven
There are many ways in which the mainframe is tailor-made for Blockchain. As Blockchain networks grow, with more and more members and transactions driving up the size of Blockchain ledgers, the scalability of the mainframe will become increasingly important. But perhaps the mainframe’s biggest selling point for Blockchain is security. The ability to create secure containers, unalterable even by systems administrators, safeguards against the potential loophole of an employee with privileged access rights maliciously altering hundreds of instances of the same record. Crypto-accelerators are another area where the mainframe is unique, enabling large numbers of blocks representing transactions to be encrypted at high speed. After all, a business will have to apply the same rigorous security to healthcare or legal data, regardless of whether it’s stored in a Blockchain ledger or in a more traditional format.
So, what’s next?
The clear advantage of innovating on the mainframe is that organizations can take advantage of the speed, cryptography and reliability of zSystems for hosting blockchain while seamlessly integrating with transactional data and applications already running on the mainframe. One test showed a 7-times increase in accessing business data from mainframe compared to x86 Blockchain infrastructure.
There is lots of information available about the advantages of the mainframe and Blockchain and the innovations connected to it. If you haven’t already connected with the Hyperledger Project I suggest you do. It’s part of the Linux foundation, and is a great spot to explore, and see business use-cases in action. There are starter kits for Hyperledger coming online for developers to experiment with. Also, check out this demo on IBM’s website to learn more about Blockchain and the mainframe. These resources are a great way to start discovering how your own mainframe shop can take advantage of Blockchain’s transformational possibilities.