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Amazon Introduces Managed Blockchain and Quantum Ledger Database

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At the recent AWS re:Invent 2018 event, Amazon announced a new fully managed service for creating and managing scalable blockchain networks. Amazon has created this service to simplify the provisioning and operations of running a blockchain application. Hyperledger Fabric, an open source blockchain project, is currently supported and support for Ethereum is coming soon.

Amazon has also introduced a complementary blockchain service called Quantum Ledger Database (QLDB) which provides a managed ledger database to store immutable and cryptographically verifiable transaction logs. By using QLDB, organizations can replicate their blockchain transaction logs to QLDB where it can be queried using a SQL-like language. For more AWS re:Invent news, please check-out InfoQ's recap of the event.

Setting up and configuring a blockchain can be a challenging endeavor. Within Amazon's documentation, they explain why they decided to build this service:

Blockchain makes it possible to build applications where multiple parties can execute transactions without the need for a trusted, central authority. Today, building a scalable blockchain network with existing technologies is complex to set up and hard to manage. To create a blockchain network, each network member needs to manually provision hardware, install software, create and manage certificates for access control, and configure networking components. Once the blockchain network is running, you need to continuously monitor the infrastructure and adapt to changes, such as an increase in transaction requests, or new members joining or leaving the network.

To address configuration and provisioning needs, Amazon has created a wizard-like experience that allows organizations to provision a managed blockchain service with only a few clicks. In addition, the service provides a certificate management experience, and allows you to invite new members to your network easily through a voting API. The voting API simplifies the onboarding of new members in the following way:

With Managed Blockchain's voting API, network participants can vote to add or remove members. Once a new member is added, Managed Blockchain lets that member launch and configure multiple blockchain peer nodes to process transaction requests and store a copy of the ledger.

Beyond the ability to manage onboarding and offboarding processes, Managed Blockchain also simplifies the ongoing maintenance of the network. Operational activities are tracked, including consumption metrics for compute, memory and storage. In the event that nodes within the network are performing poorly, they can be automatically evicted and new nodes automatically added.

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Amazon Managed Blockchain solves many challenges for organizations, but Amazon still feels that tracking transactions within blockchain deployments is a challenge:

Hyperledger Fabric's default ordering service does not store a complete history of transactions, making it hard to keep track of and recover transaction history when needed.

To address tracking needs, Amazon has also announced new service called Amazon Quantum Ledger Database (QLDB) which can:

Replicate an immutable copy of your blockchain network activity into Amazon Quantum Ledger Database (QLDB), a fully managed ledger database. This allows you to easily analyze the network activity outside the network and gain insights into trends.

Amazon QLDB uses a journal that will track each data change. Within this journal, records cannot be updated or deleted, but can be accessed via queries so that further analysis of the data can take place. To maintain the integrity of this data, QLDB uses a cryptographic function (SHA-256) to generate a secure output file of your data's change history.

QLDB is based upon serverless technology, which allows the database to scale without customers needing to manage the underlying infrastructure. However, operational metrics are available including read, write and storage events which all provide performance insights.

Amazon claims that the service is highly scalable and "can execute 2 – 3X as many transactions as ledgers in common blockchain frameworks."

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Amazon already has customers building applications on top of QLDB including Smaato and Healthdirect. In the case of Healthdirect, they are using QLDB to manage regulatory compliance audits. Bruce Haefele, general manager at Healthdirect, explains:

Healthdirect Australia operates in a heavily regulated industry, and it is critical that our compliance data is correct and auditable. With Amazon QLDB we look forward to having a complete and verifiable history of every change in our system, making it simple to audit when and how we arrived at our current state. Regulatory compliance is a fact of life for healthcare companies, and Amazon QLDB enables us to easily track the controls we have in place and understand how they have changed over time.

Both Amazon Managed Blockchain and Amazon QLDB services are currently available in preview.

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