Cloud Provider Comparisons

Cloud Provider Comparisons: AWS vs Azure vs GCP – Blockchain

Episode description

In Cloud Provider Comparisons, we take a look at the same cloud services across the three major public cloud providers – Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP). In this episode we put the focus on blockchain. What is blockchain? Join ACG’s Scott Pletcher as he explains exactly what blockchain is (in simple terms!), where blockchain is used, and how the clouds compare when it comes to blockchain technology.

Links to everything covered in this episode are provided below.

0:00 Introduction
0:35 What is blockchain?
2:35 What applications use blockchain?
2:51 How do GCP, Azure, and AWS compare when it comes to blockchain technology?
6:21 What about other cloud providers?

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Episode resources:

Series description

In Cloud Provider Comparisons, we explore and compare the same cloud service across the three major public cloud providers - Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP).

- Okay, hello, Cloud Gurus, Scott Pletcher here. And welcome to another episode of Cloud Provider Comparisons. In this series, we take a look at the same cloud services across different cloud providers. We'll look at the similarities, the differences, and anything else that might be interesting. In this episode, we're gonna be digging into what the cloud providers have to offer in the way of blockchain.

For starters, I'm gonna explain just what blockchain is. And if you already know all that stuff, do feel free to skip ahead to the comparison part.

What comes to mind when I say blockchain, bitcoin, cryptocurrency? For many people, that's the context in which they may have first heard the term, but the concept of a blockchain really isn't new at all. Back in 1982, David Chaum proposed a blockchain-like process in his PhD dissertation at the University of California, Berkeley. Nearly a decade later, researchers at Bellcore published a paper on using a blockchain method to guarantee document timestamps. And they would go on to create a company called Surety, but more on them later. It wasn't until 2008 that a person or group of people, calling themselves Satoshi Nakamoto, created a blockchain concept that would go on to power bitcoin.

So how exactly does a blockchain work? Well, a block is some chunk of data. It can be a financial transaction, an invoice, a bill of lading, most anything really that can be stored digitally. Now, that block also includes something else, a hash from the block added to the chain right before it. What is a hash? Think of it as a mathematically calculated fingerprint that represents all the data in that block. Now, since the block includes the fingerprint of the prior block, it's this chaining of hashes that gives the blockchain its immutable properties.

If someone were to go back and change a transaction in the chain, that would change the hash of that block and also all the subsequent hashes. Remember that company Surety? Every week since 1995, they have been publishing the then current hash of every electronic record they have ever sealed in the Public Notices section of The New York Times. And this taps into another strategy blockchains leverage, that being widely-witnessed. The more widely distributed a hash is, the more difficult it would be for someone to slyly change some block already in the chain. This concept ensures integrity in public and consortium blockchains as all the participants have copies of the current hash.

Today, blockchains are used in a wide variety of applications, such as supply chain traceability, real estate transactions, retail loyalty rewards programs, and even digital voting.

So how do the cloud providers stack up with regard to blockchain, well, pretty differently. As of this recording, Google Cloud Platform does not offer any blockchain services. Of course, one could download and install a blockchain platform on some VMs, but you're still gonna have to manage it all. Microsoft Azure exited the blockchain as a service business in September 2021 by retiring their Azure Blockchain Service product. Customers of that service are being directed to ConsenSys, a third party that provides Quorum blockchain as a service on the Azure Cloud.

Now, this doesn't mean that Microsoft Azure is completely turning its back on blockchain though. Microsoft has integrated blockchain technology into some new products that are currently in preview. A new ledger feature for the Azure SQL Database is built upon blockchain technology, enhancing record integrity and allowing customers to prove records haven't been tampered with. Similarly, Microsoft has also introduced Azure Confidential Ledger for the same purpose. Except with Confidential Ledger, your data is stored as objects on your Azure storage account rather than in a SQL database.

Of the clouds that we usually cover in this series, AWS has by far the most comprehensive offering for those looking to get on the blockchain train. If you're looking for a turnkey blockchain option, AWS offers Managed Blockchain. With a click of a few buttons, customers can launch a node on the public Ethereum blockchain network. Additionally, customers can also create or join private Hyperledger Fabric networks with just a few clicks as well. These public nodes and private networks are fully managed so you don't have to mess with any of the details, you just pay by the hour.

AWS also offers Amazon Quantum Ledger Database. This is a database geared towards application developers who need to ensure absolute immutable data change tracking. Now, despite the name, I can find no real evidence that it actually uses real quantums. Anyway, QLDB, as it's called for short, is comprised of two parts, a portion that stores the current state information and an append-only journal that tracks each change to that current state database. As it's really just a database, developers and applications can interact with it using SQL or the API.

The blockchain ledger portion is handled behind the scenes. Now, if you're familiar with other databases, you'll notice that this ledger sounds a lot like transaction logs or journaling. And that's because it's kind of the same thing. The difference is that each entry in that journal is cryptographically bonded to the entry before it and after it. And this makes it easy to verify and impossible to alter.

AWS has landed some well-known names who use its blockchain products, food producer, Nestle, Sony Music, the BMW Group, and Workday are some of the familiar names who have put AWS's blockchain products to work. Now, additionally, AWS boasts over 70 verified blockchain solutions on its AWS Marketplace and claims to host at least 25% of all nodes on the Ethereum network.

So is AWS the only blockchain as a platform service game in town? Not at all. IBM Cloud was one of the first significant cloud operators to get into the hosted blockchain game. And as a result, it has one of the most mature offerings. IBM hosts blockchains for some mega corporations, such as retailer, Walmart, and shipping giant, Maersk. Additionally, IBM has and continues to contribute heavily to Hyperledger Fabric, a very popular open-source blockchain framework and the software behind their branded blockchain offerings.

Then there's Oracle. The Oracle Blockchain Platform is an implementation of Hyperledger Fabric with some extra features built into it to make it work better with the Oracle Cloud. They currently host blockchains in the fashion, transport, health care, and financial services industries. Now, both Oracle and IBM leverage their large enterprise customer relationships to promote their blockchain offerings, not as the thing but just another tool in the toolbox for their customers. Now, beyond the big cloud providers, there are dozens of cloud native startups out there looking to cash in on blockchain through specific industry-focused solutions or other unique value propositions.

But those efforts are beyond the scope of this series. I will say, though, that because the use cases for blockchains are usually pretty long range in nature, do be sure to consider carefully who you might partner with. So that is the current scattered and varied cloud landscape for blockchain. According to Gartner's famed Hype Cycle, blockchain platform as a service is currently drudging through what Gartner calls the trough of disillusionment. Meaning, all those elevated expectations are being hashed out, no pun intended.

While the public clouds like Azure and SAP Cloud may have stepped back from the platform as a service options, others are staying firm and continuing to invest. Well, my friends, this has been Cloud Provider Comparisons Blockchain Edition. Thanks for sticking around, stay safe, take care of one another. And keep being awesome, Cloud Gurus.

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