Notwithstanding the large number of blockchain and distributed ledger pilots, there is still a large number of challenges to overcome that are limiting its uptake. Next to scalability, other main issues that should be tackled are integration and interoperability,
as they stand in the way of large-scale adoption of blockchain technology.
In order to meet these tough challenges big corporates like IBM, Accenture and a growing number of start-ups continue to innovate and release new use cases of this technology. One of those interesting and promising offerings that was recently announced is
the Blockchain Gateway launched by the Amsterdam-based start-up unchain.io. Being as they say: “an easy to use, highly scalable, secure and open integration platform”.
In this blog I will, try to dive somewhat deeper in this interesting proposition and investigate if this could be a lever for corporates and consortia to adopt blockchain on a much quicker and wider scale.
What is the challenge?
As more players are entering the blockchain arena, the blockchain landscape is becoming very diverse. This is creating a number of big challenges for corporates and consortia. Next to scalability (this will be tackled in an upcoming blog), these include
important issues like integration and interoperability.
First of all there is the challenge of integrating. Big organisations are expected to participate in multiple blockchain networks that will be often based on different technologies, adding to the complexity of integration. To quickly realise the full potential
of a blockchain business network in terms of speed, low cost, and security, there is growing need within organisations and consortia to easily integrate existing applications and devices with these varying blockchain networks.
For those corporates and consortia who wish to use this technology and realise the business potential for their respective networks, there is a great need for fast, secure and standardised ways to onboard their network partners. Corporates will have to manage
a growing number of connections and to deal with a great variety of blockchain technologies of existing and future networks. This results in a growing need of interoperability solutions.
What do corporates and consortia ask?
To meet all these challenges corporates and consortia increasingly ask for seamless integration of applications and devices with blockchain networks. They want that this integration will be as easy and quickly as possible. This means: no need of in-depth
blockchain expertise and no complex operations. And there is the security issue. As it concerns (in many cases) business critical transactions and information, integration with and access to blockchain networks must be highly secure.
The Blockchain Gateway
The Amsterdam-based start-up unchain.io recently launched its proposition of a Blockchain Gateway, suited for corporates and consortia, as well as system integrators, application vendors and cloud providers.
The start-up is thereby working with a number of corporates, system integrators and application vendors including names like ABN Amro, KPN, Vattenfall, IBM, Exact, Cognizant.
According to the developers this platform should serve as an extra layer between existing enterprise applications and blockchain(s). With this solution unchain wants to make blockchain technology accessible for all sorts of applications.
“Through its blockchain agnostic gateway technology, unchain.io contributes to my vision of a ‘frictionless internet of value”.
Han de Groot, investor in unchain.io
What is the Blockchain Gateway?
The core product is a gateway i.e. computer software which enables the integration of different applications and devices with multiple blockchain networks. The Blockchain Gateway thereby “meets high (non-functional) requirements in terms of scalability,
latency, availability, robustness and manageability”.
Blockchain and device agnostic
The Blockchain Gateway is a blockchain-agnostic technology. It supports Application-to-Blockchain as well as Blockchain-to-Blockchain integrations.
The Gateway is also device agnostic, designed on serverless principles. This means that it is deployable on-premise as well as in the cloud.
This Gateway offers an enterprise-grade solution that meets most of these corporate and consortia integration, operations and security wishes and avoid “a myriad of point-to-point integrations between internal applications and blockchain networks”. This
platform is said to enable organisations to securely connect to their blockchain technology, thereby providing corporates with the necessary scalability.
The Blockchain Gateway offers seamless, easy, fast and secure integration of their existing applications and devices with one or more blockchain networks. The intuitive user interface makes it easy for corporates to configure all business critical configurations
with low development efforts without the need of specific blockchain expertise.
This is made possible by using ‘out-of-the-box’ (small stateless) adapters and components (with future app store accessibility). The adapter set-up is made simple via a plug-and play method, while it is suitable for every blockchain technology.
Different ways to use adapters
There are different ways to use these adapters. According to unchain.io that could be connecting systems of records, and other applications to a blockchain network; or connect user channels and platforms for IoT devices to blockchain networks. You could
also think of setting up an adapter to channel transactions data to an analytics engine.
The Blockchain Gateway consists of an operator console to easily figure, deploy and monitor the Blockchain Gateway. With the Blockchain Gateway, corporates and consortia may connect to and manage multiple blockchain networks in a simple manner; speed-up
onboarding, data validation and integration through standardisation; and add security mechanisms to protect customer data, set-up key management and encrypt data where necessary.
The Blockchain Gateway promises to provide comprehensively security by support of HSM (hardware security module) based key management, role-based access via users and permission management, dual control (4-eye principle) on all configuration changes, version
control and release management and provides secure key management and storage.
"Our offering addresses the clear and timely need for enterprises across all sectors that are moving their PoC’s to production and look for a fast, secure and standardized way to onboard their business network partners to realize the business potential
for their respective networks." unchain CEO Arjeh van Oijen.
What value may bring the Gateway?
The Blockchain Gateway may bring real value to multiple parties within blockchain networks by simplifying integration of existing applications with one or more blockchain networks, speeding onboarding of participants and delivery of blockchain projects.
Save time to scarce blockchain development sources
With the Blockchain Gateway organisations can save time of their scarce blockchain development sources. That especially goes for consortia and blockchain eco-systems that want to rapidly grow the value of their blockchain networks.
Accelerate the time to value of all participants
By onboarding new members in an open, easy, secure and fast manner, the Blockchain Gateway can serve as a true accelerator for consortia of their blockchain network, accelerating the time to value for all participants of the blockchain network.
Reduce time of delivery blockchain projects
It could contribute to a more complete service offering to corporate and consortia clients by integrators, application vendors and cloud providers. As it immensely reduces time of blockchain projects becoming ready for real-world piloting, system integrators
could achieve accelerated, more cost-effective and more-tailor-made delivery of blockchain projects to their customers with less dependency on (already) scarce blockchain specialists.
For application vendors it would enable their application with out-of-the-box extensible integration of applications with blockchain networks. And cloud providers could deliver a highly scalable, easy to manage SaaS based blockchain integration capability
to their customers.
Unchain the future
The present (restricted) version of the Blockchain Gateway is especially focused on the enterprise market. But it is said to be suitable for all organisations to connect to all blockchain networks in a simple, safe and scalable way. The Blockchain Gateway
will initially be used in a limited number of courses with customers and partners, like system integrators, application vendors and cloud providers. The Blockchain Gateway is currently open to interested parties who are invited to register now for the so-called
Early Access Program. General availability is expected from July 2018 onwards.
Automated integration of a wide variety of (business critical) applications, customer facing channels and IoT devices with blockchain is essential for a manageable and secure IT environment and thus for the long term success and adoption of blockchain technology.
Though the first release of the (in functionality limited) Blockchain Gateway may already bring value, the future and extensive set of functionalities that are in the pipeline, may enable reaching the full potential of blockchain technology. If this solution
proves feasible on a secure and large scale, and the various parties are convinced of their added value, the Blockchain Gateway may help to unchain the future of blockchain. But – as always - the future will tell!