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Some network vendors, including Cisco, predict blockchain has promise within network management systems. But that vision is not shared by everyone.
Mike Fratto, an analyst at GlobalData in Sterling, Va., said he sees no purpose for the blockchain distributed ledger in networking. To Fratto, the technology that has attracted lots of industry attention is little more than a "relatively slow" database scattered across a network of computers.
As a foundation for network management, blockchain "would be wildly inefficient," Fratto said in an interview. Also, there are much better technologies already in place for grappling with networks.
"Fundamentally, blockchain doesn't solve the problems in network management that need to be solved," he said.
In general, blockchain is a ledger used to store transactional information across a network of computers. The distributed nature of the technology makes it highly secure, because any change to a transaction that isn't validated by the whole system is immediately rejected.
Why blockchain distributed ledger technology is hot
Mike Frattoanalyst at GlobalData
Blockchain has drawn a tremendous amount of attention as the underpinning of cryptocurrency, a form of digital money used for online or in-person transactions. Speculation on cryptocurrencies has caused giant swings in their valuation, from hundreds to thousands of dollars and then back again. Examples of cryptocurrency include bitcoin, Ethereum and Litecoin.
Despite the risk, the promise of making a lot of money on a purely digital asset has drawn lots of attention to cryptocurrency and its blockchain foundation. As a result, many technology vendors have dropped the term in press releases to draw attention to their products.
"It's just part of the hype-cycle," Fratto wrote this week in a blog. "Everyone is going crazy over blockchain."
Blockchain distributed ledger technology without the hype
But a sober look at the technology reveals it wouldn't work in areas of network management advocated by proponents, Fratto said. For example, in an auditing environment, the use of blockchain to track and record configuration changes would leave companies struggling with a "complicated, untested and unproven technology" that offers no advantage over proven alternatives.
Another proposed use case is for interoperability between multiple vendors' products. That, however, would require standardizing blockchain's many protocols, programming libraries, data formats and consensus algorithms.
The Linux Foundation's Hyperledger effort could result in an industry standard, but it's unlikely networking vendors would support full interoperability between competing products, Fratto said.
"I just don't see the point [of blockchain] in network management or networking in general," he said.