What is Blockchain and How Does it Work with OpenShift?

Blockchain is More than Bitcoins

Let’s get beyond the hype and talk about what Blockchain is and what Red Hat has to do with the technology, in plain English. Blockchain does not equal Bitcoin—it is the technology behind Bitcoin. That said, Blockchain can be used for other things beside just Bitcoin.

Blockchain is a decentralized system that allows information to be distributed securely—not copied, as it usually is. For example, if someone were to send you an email today with an attachment, you wouldn’t be opening the exact attachment that they sent to you. Instead, you’ll be reading a digital recreation of that attachment. Consequently, when you send someone a document via email, you may notice that the document itself usually doesn’t disappear from your computer. That’s because the document itself wasn’t actually sent. With blockchain, the document itself could be sent to your email recipient. This is the main takeaway: With blockchain you can exchange an actual piece of data without needing a mutually trusted broker in the middle of your transaction. On top of that, an exchange of data is recorded at each step of the hand-off within the blockchain to both ensure that any modification to the data is noted, and to make a record of the exchange.

Blockchain has taken center stage inside the financial services industry where it is seen as most applicable. In order to separate blockchain from the financial services industry though, I’ll try to give examples and reference the technology in other contexts. For instance, beyond the use case of exchanging documents, blockchain could be used for civil voting purposes. With blockchain you could simply submit a vote electronically from your smartphone from the comfort of your living room, without having to worry about any kind of foul play. Because of its ability to both distribute a piece of information instead of making a copy, and insure the integrity of your data, a blockchain based voting system could transmit your vote securely, and can pinpoint the exact location where any changes were made, if that were to happen.

Side note: if you are interested in blockchain inside the financial services industry, follow Cheryl Chiodi’s blog series on the Red Hat Vertical Industries blog for more industry-specific information.

How Does Blockchain Work?

Blockchain took off because people don’t trust each other. It should be noted that distrust is not a new development, it’s part of human nature. To draw on a real-world example, I recently lent a buddy of mine a reasonably large sum of money. Was I scared that he wasn’t going to pay me back? Of course, you would be too, and so would he. To solve our issues of mistrust, usually, we’d use a centralized intermediary or a broker, like a credit union to exchange our money. With blockchain we wouldn’t need a centralized intermediary.

Conceptually, you can think of blockchain as a series of accounting ledgers. Because blockchain is decentralized, data flows through individual computers, rather than one specific central intermediary, like the credit union I mentioned earlier. If you’ve ever heard the joke, “The cloud is just some else’s computer” that’s kind of relevant to blockchain, too. Blockchain can be thought of as gigantic spider web of other people’s computers. When each of those other computers receives data, it passes the data onto the next computer in the blockchain and records the event in a ledger. Doing this creates a traceable, and secure, transfer of information. For more, and a potentially clearer explanation on blockchain, check out this video produced by the Institute for the Future.

What is Red Hat’s Relationship to Blockchain?

Red Hat has partnered with BlockApps, one of the leaders in the blockchain space to offer Blockchain-as-a-Service. With BlockApps, you can use Red Hat Openshift as a turnkey way to enable blockchain capabilities.

BlockApps is a founding contributor to the Enterprise Etherium Open Source Project, has over 1,000 projects in development, and has worked with hundreds of customers on blockchain proof-of-concepts, or early stage production systems. The company provides a cloud-based development platform, called STRATO, in addition to consulting assistance, offered on Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform allowing customers to build their own blockchain applications on Red Hat’s products. BlockApps also provides an easy-to-use scripting language that enables developers to create blockchain applications in hours.

A Use Case for Voting

To further clarify how blockchain works, let’s return to my voting scenario. For this application, sets of digital vote coins could be issued to a voting body—just like the Romans used to do with physical tablets.

Roman Election Coin
By Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.com, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Like in ancient Roman elections, one party (typically the governing body) would issue a set of coins to each registered voting blockchain address. These sets would contain as many coins as possible outcomes of the vote, and each coin would correspond with specific candidates – if there are three candidates, three coins are given out in a set, one for each. The members of the voting party would then be told to send their chosen vote coin through the blockchain to the address representing the candidate or proposition for which they would like to vote. At the end of the voting period, the combined number of coins at the final addresses should equal the total number of voting members registered. It is important to note that in this scenario it is imperative to ensure that each individual only has one blockchain address.

If you’ve followed along this far in my voting scenario, you might notice that this would create an open ballot vote. The vote would be open because your coin could be easily traced at every stop along the blockchain, right back to you. If a secret ballot is your aim, this problem could be easily solved by mixing up the coins via a randomizing application before they hit the blockchain and travel to their designated addresses. While my scenario is strictly hypothetical for now, we are starting to see the popularization of much of the technology that would make my scenario reality.

As evidenced, blockchain could have a much wider reach than just financial services. Blockchain technology has the potential to address challenges across a broad range of industries and to revolutionize how business, social, and governmental software systems are built.

OpenShift and Blockchain

Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform is well-positioned to be a platform of choice for blockchain infrastructure and solution providers. The possibilities with blockchain are virtually endless. Stay tuned for more insight from me into different applications of blockchain outside of financial services. Also, feel free to let us know your thoughts on blockchain, and any initiatives your organization might be involved in, in the comments section below.

Chris Lentricchia is a Marketing Manager at Red Hat, covering infrastructure evangelism efforts.

OpenShift Container Platform, OpenShift Online