The Second Coming of Blockchain

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Updated 2/14/2017
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Rick Echevvaria RSA Blog on Blockchain

Blockchain is coming to a transaction near you. Perhaps not in its current form as Bitcoin, but in a second incarnation, where it will be used for medical records, financial transactions, contract fulfillment, or supply chain traceability. It will open up new opportunities for interactions between parties that require trust and validation. It will disrupt markets that currently rely on centralized authorities to certify relationships and verify transactions. It will add a component of trust to untrusted environments.

At Intel, we see a lot of potential benefits in blockchain technology, and have been actively working with others to explore opportunities and identify areas where our expertise and technologies can have an impact.

As a technology innovator, Intel is constantly pushing the boundaries. The broad deployment of blockchain-based solutions will require significant enhancements in areas like privacy, security, and scalability. Many organizations are experimenting with blockchain, including a collaborative project called Hyperledger which includes leading organizations in finance, IoT, supply chain, manufacturing, and technology.

One of our early contributions to the Hyperledger community is a project called “Sawtooth Lake”. We began this open source project in 2014 to evaluate the performance characteristics of large-scale blockchain deployments. Sawtooth Lake is a modular platform implemented in Python with C/C++ crypto acceleration, intended for building, deploying, and running distributed ledgers. The platform is modular and extensible, supporting a range of plug-and-play components enabling organizations to rapidly prototype and experiment with various forms of blockchain deployments.

Some use cases may require high transaction rates among a few participants, while others need to support many participants. These diverse environments require different methods of identifying who adds the next block to the chain. We have provided two distinct consensus algorithms to choose from within Sawtooth Lake. For distributed consensus, we have implement a Proof-of-Elapsed-Time (PoET) algorithm, which uses a trusted execution environment to generate fair and efficient leader election to reduce the computation and energy cost  while delivering  a fair distributed consensus.

In September, banking consortium R3 announced that eight of their member banks had successfully tested a bond-trading system, based on Intel’s blockchain platform. Together we demonstrated how you could effectively trade, match, and redeem government and corporate bonds at a throughput of more than 100,000 transactions per day. We are excited about our collaboration with R3.

On the consumer side of digital transactions, we have been working with BitPay on securing the wallets that protect people’s digital assets. BitPay, the world’s largest Bitcoin processor, now integrates Intel® Software Guard Extensions (SGX) that are built into Intel’s seventh-generation Core processors. Intel® SGX technology helps ensure security by executing sensitive operations in a protected space so sensitive data — like a user’s private key — is not exposed to code that might be compromised if, for instance, malware of some kind has infected your computer. These processor features are part of Intel’s efforts to bring decentralized trust to a wide array of asset exchanges over the Internet.

Another interesting community that we are supporting is the Open Music Initiative, which is working to create an open-source protocol for the identification of music rights holders and creators. This group is leveraging blockchain to simplify the way that musicians and related businesses are identified and compensated, and is using Sawtooth Lake as the reference platform for its project.

If you are interested in blockchain, we encourage you to engage with us. Our next event is an international hackathon, hosted by Intel and The Floor @ the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange on March 29-30, 2017, where we hope to drive new applications, showcase technological capabilities, identify talented teams, and create some deal flow for new blockchain-based ventures. Come join us!

You are welcome to follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter (@RJEche) for future insights, industry best practices, and discussions.