IBM Blockchain Platform is a cloud-based permissioned blockchain platform. It’s based on the Hyperledger Fabric framework and includes the Hyperledger Composer Online Playground for application development; and is integrated with IBM’s own operational management tools, utilities, and support.
A playground for developers, a production environment for business
Although the IBM Blockchain Platform sports integrations with IBM Business Process Manager, IBM Operational Decision Manager, and IBM Watson IoT Platform, the company doesn’t yet provide any ready-made connectors to other common components. However, it does have plans to integrate with solution accelerators, and developers are well-supported with APIs and the inclusion of the Hyperledger Composer Online Playground sandbox in the IBM Blockchain Platform developer environment for smart-contract powered application development. It’s this focus on the application tooling, supported with its network of IBM Cloud Garages for Blockchain and their methodology of design thinking and extreme programming, that underscore the company’s commitment to providing the centre of gravity for Hyperledger blockchain application development.
A blockchain solution to a business process problem
IBM sees blockchain technology as a solution to business process problems associated with decentralised business-to-business work co-ordination. It’s provided integrations with IBM Business Process Manager and IBM Operational Decision Manager, but acknowledges that blockchain implementations potentially bring with them a lot of business change and skills headaches. To that end, as well as technology considerations, the company is focusing on governance and process change at the touchpoints of BPM and blockchain, and committing a range of resources (including software, training and professional partnership) to more than 1,000 universities in the IBM Academic initiative to further the blockchain developer skills agenda.
Client interest is maturing and diversifying
IBM still classifies most of its blockchain customer engagements as being ‘founder-led’ (i.e. where an organisation seeks to enhance its own business through the development of a blockchain solution for an existing business network, of which it’s a dominant party). However, as the market matures, IBM reports that interest is slowly moving towards scenarios where less asymmetric consortia are proposing joint projects; and instances where customers are ending up developing solution platforms in niche areas, where they’d initially planned to launch products. This suggests a shifting focus away from attempts to ‘impose’ a blockchain solution on an ecosystem, to one driven more by shared vision and shared value. Here, IBM Blockchain Platform’s ability to help customers quickly and easily form a network of diverse organisations into a decentralised consortium to tackle their B2B process problems comes to the fore.
Introducing IBM’s blockchain offering
IBM’s blockchain focus is on permissioned blockchain networks, leveraging the trust and relationships inherent in existing business networks (see the MWD Advisors report Blockchain for business: What is it and why should I care? for more information on the different types of blockchain).
The company is a founding premier member of the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger Project (see Hyperledger: Permissioned blockchains for every industry for background), and has invested heavily in contributing to the open source Hyperledger Fabric blockchain framework and Hyperledger Composer – both of which provide the main components for its own commercial cloud-based offering.
Originally launched in October 2016 as IBM Blockchain on Bluemix High Security Business Network, IBM relaunched its Hyperledger-based blockchain offering in August 2017as the IBM Blockchain Platform. It’s fully integrated with the company’s cloud-based development and production environments, marrying open source frameworks and tools with IBM’s own management tools, utilities, and support (and leveraging a modular cloud-based architecture for security, performance, and resilience). The package has been designed to make it easier for the members of a consortium to create, govern, manage and operate a permissioned blockchain network.