The 3rd. In January 2009, Satoshi Nakamoto mined bitcoin’s Genesis block, unleashing the biggest tech gold rush of the century. Bitcoin (BTC) was part software, part protocol, part network, part team of developers and part something new called crypto currency. At the same time, cloud technologies have proven that abstractions and application programming interfaces enable explosive product scalability and flexibility by removing all the distractions that dominate 90% of an application’s technology stack.
Despite the dozens of competitors that have emerged since bitcoin’s inception, almost all of them are vertically integrated, and none of them have made the same product changes as the cloud. Networks like Ethereum and EOS have broken this norm by creating a platform for various public blockchain networks – but what next?
To answer this question, it is necessary to define what blockchain is at the atomic level itself. Bitcoin and its successors, such as Ethereum and EOS, offer several technical features, such as peer-to-peer gossip networks, decentralized consensus mechanisms, and cryptographically guaranteed ownership. These are not necessarily new technical features that already exist in many products that have not yet reached Bitcoin’s value.
Moreover, it is a mistake to define a blockchain by its purely technical properties, making the technology exist only for technologists. For example, for people outside the tech world, the most striking feature of bitcoin is that it creates and manages bitcoin, a digital currency that you can own, that is scarce, and that is clearly resistant to duplication and counterfeiting.
The cloud on the other hand (and with an appropriate name) has a vague and abstract character. The cloud has broken down the modern app stack into functions (or things you can do), put them behind APIs, and offered them as services a la Maps. This innovation has enabled amazing flexibility in the development of new products. Product teams that would have succumbed to the weight of shared systems infrastructure and administration costs were freed from the burden of understanding what was in the black boxes of architecture diagrams. This has led to a major idiomatic shift in the industry and ultimately an explosion of customer-facing products and services.
Designing applications for the cloud diverts developers from fascinating, but ultimately less valuable issues, such as microoptimizing database parameter selection or server management, to more important issues for their product. Abstracting these technical details and considerations behind a set of functionalized services emphasizes the uniqueness of your product among its competitors, rather than the fundamental aspects of managing the modern application stack. If this abstraction model has helped companies successfully bring more diverse products to market, what kind of functionalized services will blockchain applications need to achieve the same result?
There are many ways to answer this question, but we will focus on two possible approaches: horizontal feature layers and high-level types.
In the context of a horizontal structure of functional layers, a blockchain – such as EOS or Ethereum – can be seen as a computational system capable of executing hundreds or thousands of verified smart contracts, a storage system that ensures global consistency of data, a robust authentication system, and an ordering service to resolve disputes between transactions. Each of these layers is independently verified to ensure parity with the existing blockchain. From this point of view, concepts such as block production and consensus protocols do not appear to be separate layers, since they provide no more than implementation details of the other layers. This suggests that if there was another way to access these functionalized services, blockchain or peer-to-peer networks might be redundant.
Another approach would be to look at higher level concepts or protection measures and make them functional as services. For example, one of the many problems to be solved with cryptocurrencies is double spending. If someone has bitcoin and spends it, they can’t reissue it. Conceptually, this seems elementary, but in a decentralized global computer system, it can be difficult to effectively enforce this security. A service designed to be easily integrated into any application abstracts all the complexity of blockchain operations and enables more efficient application discovery beyond cryptographic blades.
Another example: Many business chains require strict data immutability. A service that offers this concept will reduce the friction to bring such use cases to market. In fact, this quality, as a service, has already become a commercial feature: This is the core offering of Amazon’s Quantum database. And the way these services are implemented has and should have nothing to do with the product developers.
Why the cloud needs blockchain
What was less obvious about the cloud revolution than its ability to accelerate product delivery was its ability to integrate opaque architectures and failure modes. When cloud systems work, they work surprisingly well; but when they fail, is the common expression: You had a blanket, didn’t you? This responsibility is not feasible for industries that require extensive authentication and end-to-end authentication. Unbreakable rules are harder to follow in today’s cloud. While it’s easy to envision and apply a complex architecture in the cloud, it can be nearly impossible to fully understand the resulting moving parts.
Blockchain, on the other hand, is foreign to the world of cloud computing: He has complete and firm control over himself. This may mean that it can never reach the heights of modern cloud technology. What if we applied the same understanding of the cloud to a higher level? Perhaps 90% of all applied logic can be loose and incomprehensible if the core and matter that make up the 10% are rigid and frivolous. If blockchain were functionalized and offered as a service alongside other traditional functions, would the resulting application stack be both reliable enough to give it control over real money and flexible enough to allow forward-thinking product teams to continue creating products the world has yet to see?
In the clouds
This article questions the standard definition of the blockchain industry. I never took the term literally to mean a sequence of blocks cryptographically concatenated by a particular network of root token holders. Instead, I chose to speculate on the new aspects that make Blockchain unique in the history of computer protocols and systems.
While blockchain is a modern technology in the truest sense of the word, it is important to keep in mind that it is merely an implementation of broader concepts such as end-to-end authenticity or data ownership. Even if we never think of protocols that allow for true abstraction between the service provider and the service consumer, we must strive to make the industry more product-centric. We are only just beginning to realise the potential of blockchain and I am certainly looking forward to continuing this progress.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect or represent those of Cointelegraph.
Bart Wyatt is Director of Solution Architecture at Block.one and leads the company’s core team of blockchain engineers. With over 18 years in the IT industry, the last seven of which have been dedicated to asset tokenization and decentralized identity, Bart has experience leading technology teams at several companies specializing in identity protection solutions, negative attestation, cryptographic evidence parsing, and gaming and advertising technologies.
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