Over the last ten years two of the most important technologies that have seen widespread adoption have been virtualization and blockchain. Virtualization paved the way for cloud computing and the blockchain protocol has the potential to eliminate trusted authorities for data governance.

Strangely, no one has put the two - cloud and blockchains - together. If they did they would realize that together they would the solve the thorniest problem for Enterprise and Government  CIOs, namely “how do I comply with the law and trust my mission critical processes to an outsourced vendor who has little if any accountability?”

Blockchains

Bitcoin relies heavily on the blockchain, a public “ledger” of every transaction that is distributed to the edge of the network. The key idea is that there is no centralized authority that is responsible for saying what is true or what is false, rather multiple distributed parties come to consensus, that consensus is entered into the ledger which thereafter can be accessed by anyone in the future. It is computationally infeasible for a single actor (or anything less that majority consensus) to go back and modify history.  

The Cloud as a Data Logistics Platform

  • What do consumers of cloud computing care about?
  • What do they want to know is true?
  • What would be the equivalent of a blockchain transaction in the cloud?

If we position the cloud as a giant logistics platform for data, then we can think of a transaction as the transport or processing of data. Data enters in to the cloud (network), it is processed (compute) and then is either returned to a consumer or kept for re-use at a later date (storage). 

CIOs want a verifiable  supply chain for their data

If you ask CIOs what they need to move their mission critical processes to the cloud then you will  hear terms like “accountability, reliability, compliance, security, verifiability, auditability, acceptance of liability” etc. 

in other words they demand that there is a secure supply chain and that every step in that supply chain can be verified in real-time and when things go wrong it is possible to figure out what went wrong and that there is someone who can be held accountable. 

Today not a single cloud vendor can say this. It also shows the opportunity; if such a platform could in fact be built and the concerns of Enterprise CIOs be satisfied then over time the  global enterprise IT budget would be up for grabs. This is why last week’s announcement is so significant. 

Building a BlockCloud

In principle such as system can be easily envisioned. The blockchain would consist of data transactions, an example of which would be an application being uploaded at a specific time by a specific entity. Afterwards this cannot be denied by the entity that uploaded the application and users of that application can verify the integrity, time and provenance of that particular application using the blockchain. Everything, that happens to data, whether transport, processing or storage of data are also transactions and are entered into the blockchain. 

Afterwards what happened to data, who accessed the data, where it went and how that data was governed can be verified by anyone who has access to the blockchain. In essence the blockchain freezes the compute platform in time and with appropriate monitoring users of the platform can verify that the platform is in the correct state.  

Such a system would give complete traceability, accountability and transparency for the cloud, entities who are either using or administrating the cloud can be held responsible for their actions, regulators get to audit all processes and everyone involved can verify what happened when. 

Of course a reasonable question to ask would be whether such as system could be built in reality. Even a modest petabyte cloud easily implies billions of data transactions every second that would need to be entered into the blockchain and distributed out to the edge. The implied network, storage and compute requirements would make it impossible to scale. 

Right?  

Now here's a thought - imagine if that blockchain wasn't just for one cloud - but for all clouds, and all data - every transport, compute and storage of data across all networks in the world. Imagine what such as a system would imply for accountability and transparency for global society. It would transform our society from one that is trust based to one that is truth based, i.e. humans can choose to trust each other, but they can also prove what happened using the blockchain.