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ProvenDB brings blockchain applications to world of MongoDB

Blockchain is intriguing technology, but carries with it high system overhead. ProvenDB adds blockchain to MongoDB in an effort to gain acceptable performance.

Melbourne, Australia-based startup ProvenDB released an early access version of a database service that matches MongoDB applications with public blockchain technology. The vendor's goal is to make contracts and other crucial data tamper-proof using blockchain hashes.

In blockchain applications, hashes are key functions in mathematical processes that turn raw data into highly secure cryptographic tokens. The data in blockchain transactions is said to be immutable in that changes to the original data are apparent to viewers.

"You can take a document in the MongoDB database, create a hash, and then, in turn, a tree of hashes that validate all the data in that version," said Guy Harrison, ProvenDB CTO. "If a hacker should tamper with that, it would create an obvious break in the hash."

ProvenDB chose MongoDB as the counterpart to ProvenDB's blockchain implementation because of its popularity with developers building new applications, said Harrison, a former R&D executive at Dell and Quest Software.

Harrison said MongoDB-friendly APIs reduce technology learning time for Mongo developers ready to take on blockchain applications. ProvenDB resides on MongoDB Atlas, which runs on Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure clouds.

ProvenDB said May 1 that it made available an "early access program'' for its blockchain-enabled database service. The program is similar to a controlled beta for qualified developers.

Immutably yours

IDC blockchain market predictions
Blockchain seems prepped for broad adoption, but on the data front the technology is still new.

The ProvenDB implementation comes as blockchain distributed ledger systems continue to draw interest among data technologists as a means to ensure the immutability of data. That trait is of no small value in a highly interconnected -- and hackable -- world.

A decade after it rose to prominence as the framework for the Bitcoin cryptocurrency, blockchain efforts are underway in various segments of the IT industry. IBM, Oracle and others are pursuing high-profile blockchain projects.

For its part, Microsoft last week disclosed a planned partnership with JPMorgan Chase to host that financial house's Quorum distributed ledger platform via a new Azure Blockchain Service.

These and other developments lead IDC to project a $2.9 billion market in 2019 for blockchain, vaulting to $12.4 billion in 2022.

To tweak world's worst database

Still, taking the promise of the technology underlying bitcoin to the database world is an undertaking with uncertainty. The system's hashes and cryptographic computation entail substantial overhead. As a pure database, blockchain could be somewhat inadequate, as even ProvenDB's Harrison argued.

Enterprises are still exploring how blockchain might help with their data challenges.
Nick HeudeckerAnalyst, Gartner

But, a database combination of the sort represented in the pairing of ProvenDB sitting atop MongoDB can create blockchain applications with acceptable performance, Harrison contended.

In the Harrison's scenario, ProvenDB sits between the MongoDB and the Bitcoin blockchain.

But, using ProvenDB, MongoDB documents selected for blockchain treatment do not kick off entire blockchain transactions.

Only root hashes, which are obtained through an aggregation process based on "Merkle tree" cryptographic processes performed within ProvenDB, are placed on the blockchain.

An AWS blockchain-like ledger

While it is early for blockchain-enabled proofs of data lineage on the cloud, ProvenDB is not without competition.

One notably comes via cloud powerhouse Amazon. At AWS re:Invent, last year the big tech vendor announced plans for QLDB, or Quantum Ledger Database, as a centralized ledger that stores data that can be queried via a variation on SQL.

As part of last week's announcement of an Amazon Managed Blockchain, Amazon said QLDB would become generally available "in the coming months."

Obstacles to blockchain

For the time being, the viability of blockchain efforts in the data realm will be weighed in comparison to conventional systems' capabilities, according to Nick Heudecker, analyst at Gartner.

"Some aspects of blockchain, like tamper evidence, are particularly appealing. But enterprises are still exploring how blockchain might help with their data challenges," he said.

Heudecker agreed that the decentralized architecture that most blockchain applications use tends to involve development and runtime overhead that may not merit its deployment.

"It seems like a middle ground is needed -- something that offers the tamper evidence and auditing capabilities of blockchain, without the integration challenges of full decentralization," Heudecker said.

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