At Think 2018, Machine Learning and Blockchain technologies are beyond pervasive, they are assumed to be beneficial to ROI in every situation. That type of hype begs for closer review. In this post, we’ll look at a potentially real use of blockchain for operations.

There is so much noise about blockchain that it can be difficult to find a starting point. I’m leaving background reading as an exercise for the reader; instead, I want to focus on how blockchain creates a distributed ledger with shared trust. That’s a lot of buzz words! Basically, we’re talking about a system where nodes share data in a way that they use consensus with their peer to determine if the information is trustworthy.

The key concept in blockchain is moving from a central authority to a distributed authority.

In the data center, administrative trust is essential. The premises, networks, and access credentials all rely on the idea that we have a centralized authoritative group. Even PKI, which is designed for decentralized trust, relies on a centralized trust to sign keys. Looking objectively at the bundle of passwords, certificates, keys and isolation layers, there are gaping risks in this model. It only takes getting the right access to flip administrative control from an asset into a liability.

Blockchain allows us to decentralize trust in the data center by requiring systems to collaboratively validate administrative instructions.

In this model, we’d still have administrative controls and management; however, the nodes would be able to validate configuration changes with their peers or other administrative sources. For example, an out of process change (potential hack?) on a single node would be confirmed via consensus with other nodes instead of automatically trusting the source. The body of nodes protects from a bad administrative request. It also allows operators to quickly propagate configurations peer-to-peer instead of relying on a central hub and spoke model.

This is even more powerful if configuration is composited from multiple sources in a pipeline. In a multiple author system, each contributor will be involved in verifying that changes to the whole configuration. This ensures that downstream insertions are both communicated and accepted by upstream steps.  This works because blockchain is a distributed ledger. Changes made to the chain are passed back to all parties. Just like in a decentralized supply chain model, this ensures both validation and transparency.

Blockchain’s ability to provide both horizontal and vertical integrity for operations is an intriguing possibility.

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts about this application for blockchain. From a RackN and Digital Rebar perspective, these capabilities are well aligned with our composable approach to configuration. We’d be happy to talk with operators who want to look more deeply into this type of integration.

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