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IBM Blockchain platform adds hybrid, multi-cloud support

IBM has enhanced its blockchain platform such that it will run on other cloud platforms beyond the IBM Cloud, including the AWS and Microsoft Azure clouds.

IBM has doubled down on a big bet it made a couple of years ago, with a new version of its blockchain platform that supports multiple clouds, as well as more blockchain developers.

Two years ago, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty named blockchain one of IBM's strategic imperatives. The company prioritized research and development efforts to build IBM's blockchain platform, and also worked to seed the market for it.

"What the internet did for communications, I think blockchain will do for trusted transactions," Rometty said in a 2017 interview with CNBC's Jim Cramer.

IBM based its blockchain technology on the open source Hyperledger Fabric project and offered it as a service on the IBM Cloud. However, as customers expand their use of multiple cloud platforms, IBM has rearchitected its blockchain software to support containers and Kubernetes. IBM Blockchain Platform for Multicloud enables users to deploy the platform across hybrid and multi-cloud deployments, including public clouds from IBM, AWS and Microsoft Azure, as well as on-premises private clouds.

Jerry Cuomo, vice president, IBM BlockchainJerry Cuomo

IBM also has added support for Microsoft's popular Visual Studio Code lightweight code editor, to provide a simplified experience for developers and operators that create and maintain blockchain networks. The VS Code extension enables developers to integrate their smart contract development and network management functions and move from development to test to production from a single console, said Jerry Cuomo, vice president of blockchain technologies at IBM. IBM also provides code samples and tutorials to help any developer become a blockchain developer. The VS Code extension supports Java, JavaScript, TypeScript and Go programming languages.

I'd like to see IBM ... integrate low-code capabilities into the [blockchain] platform, especially in light of Salesforce's pending entrance into the blockchain space through the Lightning Platform in 2020.
Charlotte DunlapAnalyst, GlobalData

Andrew Pinkham, vice president of engineering at Boston-based True Tickets, was a beta user of the IBM Blockchain Platform for Multicloud. "I used the TypeScript SDK and was able to run through tutorials and then use the VS Code extension to launch the Hyperledger Fabric 1.4 code, and it went really smooth," he said.

IBM will publish a new version of the VS code extension every couple of weeks, along with change logs and tutorials.

Kubernetes support and a hook to VS Code are important steps to simplify the use of IBM's blockchain platform and help kick-start adoption of a promising but very complex technology, said Charlotte Dunlap, an analyst at GlobalData in Santa Cruz, Calif.

IBM's support for Visual Studio Code helps developers integrate smart contracts with network management functions, for example. "I'd like to see IBM take that a step further and integrate low-code capabilities into the platform, especially in light of Salesforce's pending entrance into the blockchain space through the Lightning Platform in 2020," Dunlap said.

Three pillars of blockchain at IBM

IBM runs more than 1,100 blockchain networks on its public cloud IBM Cloud, Cuomo said. AWS and Microsoft offer blockchain services but they are tied to their respective cloud platforms, he noted.

IBM also has 1,500 employees that work on blockchain, under the three pillars of the company's blockchain strategy. The biggest of these pillars, in terms of IBM personnel, is consulting services. The company has worked with more than 5,000 customers to help them build blockchain networks, Cuomo said.

The second pillar is the IBM blockchain technology itself, both the investment in the open source project and IBM's organic technology. "We offer API-based, container-based, microservices-based software -- all built around open source but ready for the enterprise," he said.

The third pillar is a set of blockchain ventures, where IBM has co-convened blockchain networks in three areas: food safety, ocean freight and cross-border payments, Cuomo said. This includes a recent collaboration between IBM, KPMG, Merck and Walmart on a United States Food and Drug Administration effort to ensure pharmaceutical product integrity.

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