by Peter B. Nichol

Getting started with IBM Blockchain and exploring the wonder of Legos

Jul 25, 2016
Consumer ElectronicsInnovationMobile

The potential for blockchain technology is limited only by our imaginations. The IBM Blockchain service on Bluemix helps you stop wasting time and start saving time writing applications in chaincode.

Let’s unwrap IBM’s offering and explore how your technology team will benefit from this advancement. Think back. Remember the time you experienced your first Lego kit? It wasn’t just a stationary plastic toy, used for construction. These bricks lived and breathed — they came to life. Anything can be created with Legos, from people that talk to mythical creatures and even entire villages that launch spaceships. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination. Consider this: A world you could build limited by your individual creativity. That’s the world where we all should live.

What if we didn’t know we could only build a house or a car out of Legos? What if there was no limit on the possibilities? This is the challenge we have with blockchain. Blockchain technologies are much like that first Lego set you received as a child. We don’t have to force blockchain to transform into our existing models; blockchain technologies can enable new models. What if tomorrow’s growth from blockchain isn’t linear? This is how great minds think. They use first-principle thinking: Original ideas are not born from past assumptions, they emerge from the strategic and calculated alignment of ideas into unseeingly unusual combinations creating new causes.

The limitless wonder of Legos

Denmark carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen created the wooden toy blocks that eventually became Legos in his garage in 1932. In 1934, Christiansen founded a company called the Lego Group, a name derived from the Danish phrase leg godt, which means “play well.”

In 1950, the plastic bricks were launched, quickly followed by the biplane and motorized truck set in the 1960s. In the 1970s, Lego Ville was introduced, allowing children to create entire villages to explore. Fire engines, moon landings, the first 12-volt motor train series, and even LegoLand ships were introduced and quickly adopted globally across 42 countries. Christiansen grew the company from one person to almost 6,000 by 1987. Today, Lego products are sold in more than 140 countries.

Why did it take nearly 50 years, to introduce the idea of the Lego Village? From the first Lego Numskull Jack on the Goat to the 2016 Volkswagen Beetle kit, innovation is about bringing the impossible to life. Innovation isn’t linear.

IBM’s blockchain offering

Recently IBM launched Blockchain Cloud Services on LinuxONE, a high-security business network. The primary driver behind the release is to give customers solutions to address the privacy and interoperability challenges of blockchain ecosystems. IBM LinuxOne is open source and was designed for the app economy. Today, IBM LinuxOne is the most efficient, robust and secure Linux platform available. Why is it more efficient? IBM LinuxOne has 2x the performance for MongoDB, MariaDB and PostgreSQL plus 30 billion RESTful (architectural style of interactions between data elements rather than implementation details) web interactions a day on Node.js and MongoDB, supported by 1.5 more containers and 4x faster analytics on Docker (a platform to build and ship distributed apps).

Two environments support the IBM Blockchain

There are two versions (environments) that are capable of running the IBM Blockchain on IBM Bluemix: Starter Developer and High-Security Business Network.

The Starter Developer runs on the SoftLayer platform which supports a shared multitenant environment to develop and test levels of security performance and availability. The platform does include the testing consensus and availability Practical Byzantine Fault Tolerance (PBFT) consensus protocol. The PBFT consensus protocol maintains the order of transactions on the blockchain network and helps to avoid threats to this decree. This environment does not include Secure Services Container (SSC), a secure environment with advanced cryptography and security, but it does include a dashboard monitor.

The High-Security Business Network (HSBN) runs on IBM LinuxONE only available on an isolated single-tenant environment to simulate enterprise network and test levels of security, performance and availability. The HSBN includes the Secure Services Container (SSC) that is deployed as an appliance which provides the base infrastructure for hosting blockchain services. According to IBM, “the appliance combines operating systems, Docker, middleware and software components that work autonomously, and provides core services and infrastructure with optimized security.” The PBFT consensus protocol is leveraged in this environment, and HSBN includes a dashboard monitor. It’s worth noting that the High-Security Business Network is in beta only and IBM approval is required to access this environment.

Start my blockchain network

If you’re interested in setting up a development environment with validating nodes and a security service, there are three main steps for your team to be set up with a proof-of-concept environment.

1. Create Service: Log in to the landing page for the Blockchain DevOps Service and add a service (service name and credential name, then a development environment plan).

2. Monitor Network: Once on the service dashboard, you’re able to manage the network and can launch the blockchain monitor for the blockchain network you just created.

3. Install chaincode examples: With this dashboard, you’ll be able to access discovery and API routes for the peers on your network, view chaincode containers, see real-time logs and troubleshoot chaincode that fails to execute, and deploy one of several available chaincode examples.

There are four tutorials and chaincode samples of IBM Blockchain on GitHub; your team can immediately upload the following into your newly created environment: 1. IBM Marbles Demo (GitHub), 2. IBM Commercial Paper Demo (GitHub), 3. IBM Car Lease Demo (Github), 4. Art Auction Demo (Github).

There are several ways to set up and get your team started exploring the wonders of blockchain technologies. It’s exciting to consider new revenue streams as we integrate blockchain technologies into our existing business ecosystems. We do need to balance the inherent risk of introducing new technologies. Use your imagination to discover new ways to improve your customer interactions utilizing blockchain technologies. And remember, “If you cry from both eyes, you probably stepped on a Lego.” Innovation is a process. Even experts can step on Legos, but they step on them less often.