THOUGHT LEADER

Blockchain and the mainframe: More than a marriage of convenience

It’s hard to overstate the level of excitement that has accompanied the emergence of blockchain technology. With its ability to create business networks and provide a vital trust factor to transactions, where none could previously be expected, it is opening up a new world of possibilities across a range of sectors.


Essentially, blockchain is enabling industries to develop a transparent and distributed ledger without a single point of failure, making it incredibly hard to corrupt. Having underpinned the rise of cryptocurrencies, it’s already a proven concept. This has led to solutions being developed beyond currency, for sectors like banking, healthcare, entertainment and more.

Consider its use in the global supply chain industry, for instance, where products pass through the hands of numerous suppliers and authorities. When you have every party contributing to the blockchain ledger, all goods transported around the world will be accompanied by an indelible record which can verify authenticity and ethical sourcing at every stage of its journey.


A slow start


Despite the great excitement, industries have been slow to adopt blockchain. This may partly be due to its less salubrious roots, as well as blockchain being an evolving technology still being developed for different application uses. But a larger stumbling block that needs to be overcome is the distributed nature of blockchain. This means that the technology is decentralised; it uses a peer-to-peer network approach that involves many separate elements working together. While this collaborative approach is hugely beneficial in creating trust, it can result in the slowing down of processing speeds, hindering its widespread adoption in industries like banking.


To help solve these issues and increase blockchain’s adoption across multiple industries, Hyperledger - an open source collaboration initiative established by the Linux Foundation to ‘advance cross-industry blockchain technologies’, is supported by blue chip member businesses including IBM, American Express, Intel, Deutsche Bank and Accenture. The project has brought together many of the biggest organisations in the technology, banking and finance, Internet of Things, and manufacturing and supply chain fields, to work together to develop a legitimate, standardised enterprise-grade blockchain solution that will allow secure transactions to take place at scale.


A marriage with mainframe


One of the solutions being proposed is the development of a hybrid approach that incorporates an element of centralised technology that can take care of the heavy lifting. Big global banks are currently able to carry out thousands of transactions per second because of the speed, scale and security provided by mainframe computing – and this can provide the answer.


Mainframe technology underpins 87 per cent of all credit card transactions and four billion airline flights each year. The technology is considered so reliable that 57 per cent of enterprises with a mainframe run the majority of their business-critical applications on the platform and, according to Forrester, this is set to rise to 64 per cent by 2019.


By hosting blockchain on mainframes, businesses can take advantage of their sheer computing power that comes with this - not to mention the cryptography, security and reliability. It also means that the hosted blockchain can be integrated with an organisation’s existing transaction data and systems already running on their mainframes.


While the well-established mainframe and the still developing blockchain technology may seem unlikely bedfellows, companies like IBM are already seeing the pairing lead to faster response times and throughput when it comes to transactions. Blockchain can enable open commerce on a global scale and bringing the best of centralised and decentralised technology together is a necessity to take full advantage of all it has to offer.



George Smyth is R&D director at Rocket Software