At a briefing for IT analysts, IBM laid out how it sees blockchain working in practice. Surprisingly, the platform for the Hyperledger effort was not x86 but LinuxONE due to its inherent security. As the initiative grows the z-based LinuxONE can also deliver the performance, scalability, and reliability the effort eventually will need too.
IBM describes its collaboration with Northern Trust and other key stakeholders as the first commercial deployment of blockchain technology for the private equity market. Although as the private equity market stands now the infrastructure supporting private equity has seen little innovation in recent years even as investors seek greater transparency, security, and efficiency. Enter the open LinuxONE platform, the Hyperledger fabric, and Unigestion, a Geneva, Switzerland-based asset manager with $20 billion in assets under management.
The new initiative, as IBM explains it, promises a new and comprehensive way to access and visualize data. Blockchain captures and stores information about every transaction and investment as meta data. It also captures details about relevant documents and commitments. Hyperledger itself is a logging tool that creates an immutable record.
More interesting to DancingDinosaur is the selection of the z through LinuxONE and blockchain’s use of storage. To begin with blockchain is not really a database. It is more like a log file, but even that is not quite accurate because “it is a database you play as a team sport,” explained Arijit Das, Senior Vice President, FinTech Solutions, at the analyst briefing. That means you don’t perform any of the usual database functions; no deletes or updates, just appends.
Since blockchain is an open technology, you actually could do it on any x86 Linux machine, but DancingDinosaur readers probably wouldn’t want to do that. Blockchain essentially ends up being a distributed group activity and LinuxONE is unusually well optimized for the necessary security. It also brings scalability, reliability, and high performance along with the rock-solid security of the latest mainframe. In general LinuxONE can handle 8000 virtual servers in a single system and tens of thousands of containers. Try doing that with an x86 machine or even dozens. You can read more on LinuxONE that DancingDinosaur wrote when it was introduced here and here.
But you won’t need near that scalability with the private equity application, at least at first. Blockchain gets more interesting when you think about storage. Blockchain has the potential to generate massive numbers of files fast, but that will only happen when it is part of, say, a supply chain with hundreds, or more likely, thousands of participating nodes on the chain and those nodes are very active. More likely for private equity trading, certainly at the start, blockchain will handle gigabytes of data and maybe only megabytes at first. This is not going to generate much revenue for IBM storage. A little bit of flash could probably do the trick.
Today, current legal and administrative processes that support private equity are time consuming and expensive, according to Peter Cherecwich, president of Corporate & Institutional Services at Northern Trust. They lack transparency while inefficient market practices leads to lengthy, duplicative and fragmented investment and administration processes. Northern Trust’s solution based on blockchain and Hyperledger, however, promises to deliver a significantly enhanced and efficient approach to private equity administration.
Just don’t expect to see overnight results. In fact, you can expect more inefficiency since the new blockchain/Hyperledger-based system is running in parallel with the disjointed manual processes. Previous legacy systems remain; they are not yet being replaced. Still, IBM insists that blockchain is an ideal technology to bring innovation to the private equity market, allowing Northern Trust to improve traditional business processes at each stage to deliver greater transparency and efficiency. Guess we’ll just have to wait and watch.
DancingDinosaur is Alan Radding, a veteran information technology analyst, writer, and ghost-writer. Please follow DancingDinosaur on Twitter, @mainframeblog. See more of his IT writing at technologywriter.com and here.