Oracle Blockchain Cloud Service: Production-ready for beyond PoCs

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Oracle Blockchain Cloud Service is a Hyperledger Fabric-based blockchain platform in the Oracle Cloud, wrapped with enterprise features for improved security, resilience, ease of management, and so on – and outfitted with integration into a raft of Oracle products to enable integration with existing applications, plus REST APIs to help developers build new applications.

Top takeaways

Hyperledger, hardened

Oracle has analysed the operational requirements for delivering blockchain-enabled applications at scale in an enterprise setting, and constructed the Oracle Blockchain Cloud Service to address both blockchain-specific concerns (such as on-boarding, blockchain network security, monitoring, availability and recoverability), and wider enterprise application needs around integration – in order to embed blockchain network capabilities into broader business processes.

From proofs-of-concept, to embedded production services

Oracle understands that the value in blockchain can’t be realised from distributed ledger projects in isolation, and has focused on building out enterprise features and support to embed blockchain-enabled applications across the business in order to drive innovation (in efficiencies, and in new business models). For example, its Application Integration toolkit will provide integration application templates, patterns, and sample code designed to accelerate the integration of blockchain applications into Oracle SaaS and on-premise application suites; and there are REST APIs to enable developers to integrate with Oracle Cloud Platform for custom blockchain-based applications.

Enterprise-friendly, and Oracle enterprise super-friendly

Oracle’s enterprise-grade management add-ons, in isolation, make the Oracle Blockchain Cloud Service a good fit for any enterprise looking to scale out from early proofs-of-concept projects; but the addition of integration support for a raft of Oracle products (and support from its industry teams) significantly smooth the way forward for existing Oracle customers looking to embed and exploit blockchain across their business processes.

Introducing the Oracle Blockchain Cloud Service

Oracle launched its Hyperledger Fabric-based Blockchain Cloud Service at its annual OpenWorld conference in October 2017, barely two months after the company had officially joined the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger project. It’s expected to become Generally Available in H1 2018.

Oracle’s first foray into distributed ledger technology is a fully-managed PaaS (part of the Oracle Cloud Platform) that takes the Hyperledger Fabric permissioned blockchain framework, and implements it together with a variety of enterprise-grade services. These provide continuous backup, point-in-time recovery, rapid provisioning, and simplify the operational management of a blockchain network. They also provide integrations with key business applications, either within or through Oracle Cloud (recognising the need to support heterogeneous environments, including on-premise systems and non-Oracle cloud-based systems, alongside Oracle Cloud systems).

Creating minimum viable blockchain ecosystems

Oracle’s aim is to offer, in an enterprise-friendly way, blockchain-based value propositions – extending business processes and tracking assets beyond organisational boundaries, establishing trusted networks for online transactions, and so on – to a customer base more at home with more ‘traditional’ business applications. The company believes that in order for deployments to succeed in the long term, there needs to be a ‘minimum viable ecosystem’ – both of blockchain business network members, and of business resources (processes, systems, services and so on). These need to be integrated into the blockchain-based network, so that it’s not forever an adjunct to the main order of business.

To that end, the Oracle Blockchain Cloud Service leverages Oracle’s enterprise-grade integration, provisioning, support, and management capabilities to offer customers a platform designed to help them take the next steps beyond proofs-of-concept and bring production services online at scale (with all the attendant issues around scalability, on-boarding, security, integration, etc.)

Simplifying, accelerating, securing, tailoring

Oracle Blockchain Service is designed for customers looking to build new blockchain-based applications, and/or extend their current SaaS, PaaS, IaaS and on-premises applications with blockchain capabilities to provide “tamper-resistant transactions on a trusted business network”. Oracle’s ‘extras’ (on top of Hyperledger Fabric) are designed to build on the open source framework with capabilities that simplify and accelerate blockchain deployment, leverage the Oracle Identity Cloud service to provide high level of security protections; and provide tailored support for specific use cases, through the involvement of Oracle’s industry teams, in the areas of ERP, supply chain / manufacturing, and open banking.

Since prior to launch and until general availability, Oracle is running an early access programme for its Blockchain Cloud Service, from which it reports an accelerated interest in supply chain use cases (citing demonstrators with partners such as Infosys and Accenture); now on a par with financial services interest (with public sector present as well) – representing use cases with implications both for the reduction of cost and risk, and creation of new revenue streams. It’s working with these early access customers to determine how blockchain can be integrated into the way a company does business, using engagement with its industry teams to better understand application specific use cases (Oracle’s SaaS teams are organised by industry; whereas it’s PaaS is cross-industry, with the company engaging with both cross-cutting and industry-focused developers to build applications upon it).

Technical capabilities

As briefly outlined above, Oracle has added a number of ‘enterprise-grade’ elements to Hyperledger Fabric in order to create its Blockchain Cloud Service, including: integration with identity management, data-at-rest encryption, point-in-time recovery, dynamic configuration, a REST proxy, fine-grained authorisation to Hyperledger’s channels concept for privacy, and key management / authentication services in Hyperledger Fabric Certificate Authority (leveraging Oracle Identity Cloud Service).

It’s also sought to simplify the on-boarding, provisioning, and management side of blockchain deployment with its own tooling (administration / operations UI for customers’ use) and managed hosting services. Customers are responsible for managing the provisioning, configuration, peer node management, channel definition and enrolment of client applications; whereas Oracle manages the upgrading and patching of Blockchain Cloud Service instances, delivers continuous backup of configuration and ledger blocks and their point-in-time restoration (if required), and provisions the Event Hub Service (see below), cloud storage, and container management.

Oracle has invested heavily in the connectors and adapters that integrate Blockchain Cloud Service with customers’ existing business applications. Blockchain nodes support REST APIs for API-driven development and integration, leverage Oracle data services (e.g. Object Store, Oracle NoSQL Database), provide rich data query capabilities, and use Oracle integration accelerators to connect with SaaS and PaaS (e.g., Oracle ERP and E-Business Suite adapters in Oracle’s Integration Cloud Service PaaS – which in turn connect to Oracle E-Business Suite, and SCM Cloud, Java Cloud Service, and so on). Oracle provides administration tools for dynamic configuration, monitoring, and troubleshooting of the blockchain network, and Oracle Event Hub Cloud Service provides Apache Kafka stream processing.

Future plans

To further support heterogeneous environments, Oracle is looking at interoperability with other Hyperledger Fabric deployments on-premise or in third-party clouds (based on protocol compatibility, and enabling chaincode built for Fabric outside of Oracle Blockchain Cloud Service to also run within it). The company is planning to offer Oracle Blockchain Cloud Service APIs as part of Oracle Digital Innovation Platform for Open Banking, incorporating APIs to blockchain-enable offerings in lending, Know-Your-Customer / Anti-Money Laundering, trade finance, etc.; and also to enable blockchain transactions between Oracle FLEXCUBE Core Banking solution and other core banking systems, providing pre-configured banking solutions for remittances, trade finance, and so on. Oracle’s NetSuite cloud ERP offering will also incorporate blockchain APIs into its development platform, enabling developers and partners to offer blockchain-enabled applications for financial services, supply chain processes, and others to the NetSuite community of small and medium businesses.

Suitability

Oracle has highlighted the difficulties that enterprises face, both in moving from isolated proofs-of-concept into a production environment; and in properly integrating any blockchain-powered application into the rest of the rest of the IT estate that powers a business – especially in its banking / ERP heartland. Blockchain technologies are seen by many organisations as challenging because of complex integrations; production-ready requirements such as security, resilience, recoverability, scalability, and so on; the complexities of on-boarding and supporting blockchain network members through a lifecycle; and the need to insulate from the risks of rapid platform evolution in a new technology area.

As well as seeking to address operational enterprise concerns, Oracle is seeking to address a number of the constraints it sees as impeding wide-scale adoption of blockchain technologies (beyond standalone proofs-of-concept). It’s developing templates and declarative tools to help generate business-user friendly smart contracts / chaincode.

Although the Oracle Blockchain Cloud Service has the open-source Hyperledger Fabric blockchain framework at its core, Oracle is seeking to differentiate its offering by the mission-critical enterprise services (in general) that it’s wrapping around this core, and the integrations it’s providing for its ERP and banking customers (specifically).

Any enterprise looking at using blockchain technologies will benefit from the addition of enterprise security, managed on-boarding, and so on – and indeed other business technology vendors will frame their blockchain-based offerings in similar terms. However, if your business is powered by Oracle applications and you have significant investment in the Oracle Cloud Platform, then not only is the Oracle Blockchain Cloud Service designed to ease distributed ledger technology into your stack: Oracle’s industry teams are focusing on smoothing the ride to blockchain-powered applications tailored to your use cases. It’s already developed demonstrators in areas such as food provenance; Contract Manufacturing Supply Chain, and also in Financial Services, around the Open Banking Digital Innovation Platform in Europe, and through NetSuite (which is taking Blockchain Cloud Service APIs into its platform and providing direct access to the service).

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