Blockchain-microservices pairing not an enterprise reality yet

Despite some specific use cases, experts don't expect to see many enterprises combine blockchain and microservices -- at least, not yet.

Blockchain and microservices are two popular buzzwords in tech circles today, leading some companies to question whether a combination of the two could prove advantageous. However, while many industry experts don't see that combination becoming mainstream anytime soon, there are potential synergies between the two technologies.

Examples of a blockchain-microservices combination

Microservices make it easier to build and deploy modern, connected, distributed and data-centric applications across different organizations and industries, which can enable digital collaboration. Blockchain can become part of the plumbing in this model, as it helps ensure trust and integrity across these ecosystems, said Csilla Zsigri, senior analyst of cloud transformation and blockchain at 451 Research.

Zsigri cited two examples of companies actively employing blockchain and microservices together.

The first, Xpansiv, is a startup that's focused on the migration of data in commodity markets from analog to digital. The company has built a platform that combines blockchain, microservices, machine learning and data analytics, among other technologies.

"In particular, Xpansiv's platform uses event-driven microservices for building and deploying distributed applications," Zsigri said.

A second example is Gem, which offers a blockchain operating system called GemOS and uses microservices to isolate data and scale more efficiently.

Challenges of a blockchain-microservices pairing

Still, for a variety of reasons, not every company will want to pursue a blockchain-microservices combination. Many enterprises are instead consuming blockchain as a service delivered by their cloud provider, said Al Gillen, an analyst at IDC.

In addition, blockchain is oriented toward widely distributed environments, and that can cause problems with microservices, which are optimized for more centralized deployments, said Kevin Matheny, an analyst at Gartner.

"The more latency you have between components inside the microservices application, the harder it is to get them to behave. You don't want to distribute pieces all over the place," he said.

Matheny said he's seen little to no interest from his clients to combine blockchain and microservices. Blockchain represents about one percent of the client inquiries he receives and only about one-tenth of a percent of inquiries mention both topics. In those cases, it seems to mostly be Buzzword bingo or people looking for updates on these emerging technologies, he said.

The problem, according to Matheny, is that blockchain and microservices are fundamentally different in terms of the challenges they seek to address.

"They're both a response to the rise of distributed architecture, but they solve very different classes of problems," he said. For example, blockchain is more about enabling transactions in low-trust environments, while microservices are about speed and scaling in a more granular way.

Forrester analyst Randy Heffner also has a limited outlook for blockchain-microservices combinations.

"If I'm doing some kind of ecosystem where I'm letting people contribute assets to something -- perhaps some kind of app store for microservices -- maybe that could have a digital signature and blockchain could provide traceability," he said. But, beyond that, use cases to combine the two remain limited.

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