AWS Moves to Simplify Production-Grade Business Blockchains

FEATURE
Ian Allison
May 15, 2018 at 13:40 UTC  |  Updated  May 16, 2018 at 13:17 UTC

Cloud computing giant Amazon Web Services (AWS) is partnering with the ethereum design studio Consensys to make enterprise blockchains easier and faster to deploy.

Announced Tuesday at Consensus 2018, the two firms' business blockchain cloud service, Kaleido, aims to smooth the onboarding process for enterprise consortium members - a major challenge in the space - while simplifying the operation of private blockchain networks.

"We have been following ethereum closely as it's what many of our customers have been exploring, especially for enterprise use cases," Matt Yanchyshyn, the global technical lead for AWS' partner program, told CoinDesk.

However, he stressed that AWS is "protocol-agnostic," noting that the company also supports Hyperledger's Sawtooth and R3's Corda platforms.

Indeed, AWS is no stranger to the space, having announced back in 2016 that it would start working with blockchain startups, offering dedicated technical support and infrastructure for the firms involved.

More recently, in April of this year AWS unveiled a new service for launching out-of-the-box blockchain networks for the ethereum and Hyperledger Fabric protocols.

Now, however, the unit of Amazon has aligned itself with one of the most influential organizations in the ethereum community. "Working with ConsenSys will allow us to further understand customer needs and help accelerate their blockchain efforts," Yanchyshyn said.

Those who were around at Ethereum DevCon 1 back in 2015 might be reminded of ConsenSys' first stab at offering ethereum in the cloud, via Microsoft's Azure platform. But Kaleido aims to take the concept further.

Michael Dickson, the enterprise blockchain business development lead at ConsenSys, said Microsoft's early blockchain-as-a-service was essentially a set of scripts to enable users to quickly stand up a sandbox environment for blockchains.

"This is great when you are starting out and you are experimenting, but it will only get you so far," he said. "What we are seeing now is enterprises really have an appetite to try to get their projects all the way to production," which Kaleido can handle.

Enterprise challenges

Stepping back, enterprises looking to participate in some kind of shared blockchain architecture face an array of physical networking and performance challenges around connecting their respective data centers.

In terms of managing participation in a blockchain consortium, one of the most commonly asked questions is how to onboard members. The process can take weeks, but a public cloud can reduce that time dramatically, according to Dickson.

Then there's the complexity that goes with advanced cryptography and consensus algorithms, not to mention governance, another big area of concern going forward.

Kaleido's "shared IT" approach can deal with changes such as defining a new version of a smart contract, for example, said Dickson.

"It's about having the right tools and processes in place so that a consortium can set up policies that say 'there need to be so many votes or signatures collected before this contract gets deployed,'" he said.

The AWS-Consensys venture also brings a step closer the goal, increasingly shared by enterprise blockchain professionals, of connecting their private blockchains to the ethereum mainnet.

The platform offers a "state relay" between a private chain that a group of enterprises can set up and operate and a public blockchain.

"This allows you to configure a time interval and based upon the time interval, it aggregates together hashes and writes those up to the mainnet, so on the public blockchain," said Dickson.

In this way, the public blockchain serves as a ledger of last resort, as it were.

"So you get this permanent data point out on the mainnet that is irrefutable and acts as an objective arbitrator should a disagreement appear on the private chain," Dickson said.

Quorum in the cloud

Kaleido allows users to switch between several consensus algorithms and choose between two packages: Geth, which is the most popular client for the ethereum blockchain app platform; and Quorum, the enterprise version of ethereum developed by JPMorgan Chase.

Offering JPMorgan's Quorum as an alternative package within Kaleido is timely, given that the Wall Street giant is widely known to be considering a spin-out of the project.

According to sources familiar with JPMorgan's thinking, IT management across a wide range of Quorum users was becoming burdensome to the bank. Kaleido seems to be designed to shoulder that task.

"In the enterprise ethereum space, Quorum is a very popular choice. It gives our users the ability to send private transactions between a certain subset of members on a private chain," Dickson said.  "It was a no-brainer for us to include as an option on the platform."

Amazon Web Services image via Shutterstock.

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ConsenSysMicrosoft AzureConsenSys EnterpriseAmazon Web Servicesenterprise blockchainConsensus 2018

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