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Blockchain: IoT's new best friend?

Has the internet of things won a new best friend in blockchain? Following a compound annual growth rate of 52%, it’s expected that capital markets applications for blockchain technology will reach a value of $400 million by 2019. On top of that, by 2020 a fifth of IoT deployments will use blockchain services. With these statistics in mind, the answer to the question posed at the start of this article would be “yes,” and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would say “no.” Of course, it’s not quite that straightforward, but let’s first consider the many benefits blockchain can offer to IoT before we address how it must be managed.

Using blockchain for IoT transactions and data sharing will ease data concerns, remove single points of failure, cut costs and, perhaps most importantly, streamline processes. When it’s then supported by service assurance, IoT and blockchain will deploy incredible innovation potential in every industry it is deployed in.

The benefits are wide and varied. A drug prescribed to a patient can become visible to all relevant providers regardless of electronic health record compatibility. A connected car that pays for tolls and parking automatically could also use barcode technology to open its trunk to receive a dropped off package. A mobility-as-a-service station could offer transport to passengers and automatically collect payment for public transport, electric car charging, bike-sharing … the list is endless. Combining IoT devices and blockchain is a key, and what it can unlock is going to be the new reality.

Increased resistance means improved security

The key piece of information about blockchain is that its distributed database decentralizes ledgers by sharing a chain of transactions between multiple nodes. The blocks are publicly visible, but their contents can only be seen by organizations with the correct key to their encryption. Due to transactions needing multiple parties’ authorization before acceptance, blockchain has a high degree of trust value.

In addition to this, transactions can only be added, not subtracted or altered. From a regulatory point of view this is very attractive. A chain of accountability is visible. It also means organizations that are subject to HIPAA, the EU’s Data Protection Directive and soon GDPR will adopt such technology as a way to improve their transparency.

When it comes to IoT network deployments, blockchain can facilitate not only financial transactions, but also messaging between devices. By operating in line with embedded smart contracts, two parties can share data without anonymity being compromised. Although blockchain doesn’t solve every security concern and problem for devices that are IoT compatible, such as the hijacking of IoT devices in distributed denial-of-service botnets, it does help protect data from nefarious actors with malicious intent.

Given that IoT devices are projected to increase by astronomical levels, up to 24 billion by 2020, traditional methods of handling network traffic such as server/client will eventually be far too cumbersome and too unwieldy to be effective. The simplicity of distributed blockchain is what makes it brilliant. Supported by a growth of edge computing devices and 5G networks, this simplicity will enable faster and more efficient communications between autonomous devices, without them passing through any single points of failure. When it comes to records of IoT device function, blockchain will also have its own part to play here, making it possible for devices to communicate autonomously without a single centralized authority.

IoT, blockchain and service assurance

The challenge, then, comes in how this technology will be managed. Blockchain and IoT, like any digital transformation technology, will add a level of complexity to IT infrastructure that has never been seen before. This will include edge devices and servers that participate in the blockchain transactions, middleware for encryption and authentication, and virtual machines that distributed databases and applications will rely on. Even though these autonomous devices and additions will boost efficiency, and the improved availability and added security within could cut costs dramatically, it means that service assurance has become more necessary than ever before.

In an IoT and blockchain environment, load and latency can impact service delivery. Not forgetting that because blockchain is basically a highly distributed database, assuring that same service delivery just becomes far more difficult. It needs a holistic end-to-end visibility tool that delves into your packet and session flow — across all load balancers, gateways, service enablers like DNS, network, servers and databases — whether they’re distributed or not — and all their interdependent components.

DNS is but one example here. The coming growth in IoT devices combined with blockchain will mean a surge of DNS requests and DNS dependent services, which will have a severe impact on not only service delivery, but also on performance. In terms of business continuity, ultra-low latency of typical DNS services should concern businesses, and rightly so, as this can mean an effect on assuring IoT performance quality. If DNS performs badly, those IoT and blockchain services will also perform badly. This will mean that parts of the connected world that are becoming ever more dependent on automation may come to a standstill.

Healthcare, manufacturing, energy distribution, transportation — all critical services — could be derailed because of the slow performance of one device or DNS problems. However, losing control is avoidable as it leads us back to the holistic end-to-end visibility mentioned earlier. IT teams will need that visibility into DNS issues such as errors and busy servers; this will cut down average troubleshooting periods drastically and enable those same teams to fix any issues that may arise.

The combination of smart data, superior analytics and visibility into a network will allow IT professionals to understand the full context of service performance, and any DNS anomalies, that may be contributing to poor user experience, application performance and service delivery. This is the future of the IoT network, and it’s not a matter of “if,” it’s a matter of “here it comes, ready or not.”

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