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What does blockchain mean for the IoT?

It’s expected that by 2019, the capital markets applications for blockchain will reach $400 million, growing at a 52% compound annual growth rate. In addition, through 2020, one in five IoT deployments will utilize basic blockchain services. Using blockchain for IoT transactions and data sharing can ease security concerns, remove single points of failure, streamline processes and cut costs. When supported by service assurance, IoT and blockchain can unleash mind-blowing innovations in every industry that they touch.

Imagine this: a drug prescribed to a patient becomes visible to all relevant providers, regardless of electronic health record (EHR) compatibility. A connected car automatically pays for tolls and parking, using barcode technology to open its trunk to receive a dropped-off package. A mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) station could offer any kind of transportation to passengers and automatically collect payment for public transit, electric car charging and bike sharing. Combining IoT devices and blockchain is the key waiting to be turned to unlock this new reality.

Improved security, increased resistance
Blockchain’s distributed database decentralizes ledgers by sharing a chain of transactions between multiple nodes. Although the blocks are publicly visible, their contents are available only to organizations with the correct encryption key. Because transactions must be authorized by multiple parties before acceptance, this technology creates a high degree of trust. Additionally, you can only add transactions, not remove or alter them, making blockchain attractive to organizations subject to Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX), HIPAA and other regulatory frameworks.

On an IoT network, blockchain can facilitate not only financial transactions but also secure messaging between devices. By operating according to embedded smart contracts, two parties can share data without compromising the privacy of its owner. Although blockchain doesn’t solve every security problem for IoT devices, such as the hijacking of IoT devices for use in DDoS botnets, it helps protect data from malicious actors.

As IoT devices drastically multiply – a projected 24 billion connected devices by 2020 – the traditional server/client models of handling network traffic will prove too cumbersome, too unwieldy to be effective. The simplicity of distributed blockchain transactions is its beauty. Supported by growth in edge computing devices and 5G networks, this simplicity will enable faster, more efficient communications between autonomous devices – without passing them through single points of failure. Blockchain can also maintain faithful records of IoT device functions, making it possible for devices to communicate autonomously without a centralized authority.

Service assurance for Blockchain and IoT
Like any digital transformation technology, blockchain and IoT will add complexity to the IT infrastructure. This can include edge devices and servers participating in blockchain transactions, middleware for encryption and authentication, and virtual machines for distributed databases and applications. Although autonomous device communications and accelerated transactions can boost efficiency, and improved availability and added security can cut costs, service assurance is now more necessary than ever before. In an IoT/blockchain environment, service delivery can be impacted by load, latency and errors, and because blockchain is basically a highly distributed database, assuring service delivery is more difficult. It requires a truly holistic end-to-end visibility into packet and session flow – across load balancers, gateways, service enablers (including DNS), network, servers and databases – distributed or not – and all their interdependencies.

DNS is one example. The coming growth in IoT devices in combination with blockchain will mean a surge of DNS requests and DNS dependent services which can have a major impact on service delivery and performance. The ultra-low latency of DNS services should be of concern for business continuity and IoT performance quality. If DNS performs badly, then those IoT and blockchain services will suffer. That can mean parts of the connected world that are becoming more and more dependent on automation will come to a standstill. Healthcare, manufacturing, energy distribution, transportation, and financial transactions can get derailed because of DNS problems. However, losing control is avoidable with the right service assurance platform, where IT teams get visibility into DNS issues like errors and busy servers.

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

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