What's New in the World of Business Computing?
This is a question that we need to ask ourselves from time to time because the answer keeps on changing. Every great technology was new and unproven in its beginning. Some of these technologies have changed and will continue to change the world as we know it.
I remember the first IBM Personal Computer in 1979. Nobody thought that a PC could be used to do real work. Next thing we knew, PCs had hard drives, networks, and eventually servers with databases and applications that could share data. Like a surfer, I rode that wave of technology and gained a lot of experience.
The next wave I caught was when the Internet first came out in the early 90's? I spent a lot of time explaining what the Internet is and why companies and individuals needed to be a part of it. I remember explaining to businesses that they need to grab a domain name for their e-mail and eventually web page which would become part of their identity and be more important than a listing in the phone book. That wave took me for quite a ride as I became an Internet Service Provider and the areas biggest phone customer with 600 copper phone lines running into my garage and a large bank of modems letting customers dial in and have access to the Internet through T-1 lines.
Who could have imagined smart phones that have access to the Internet practically everywhere? Look at what texting did to Western Union and their telegraph system of sending messages around the world.
Sometimes it's tempting to sit back and think that everything we need has already been invented. There is always a “next big thing” just around the corner. I like to try to see these new technologies coming over the horizon. I try to pick out new technology, before it is common, and figure out how to be in a position to take advantage of it.
It has been a year since I last wrote a blog post for this website, but that does not mean I have not been busy. A bit older now, I am paddling that surfboard back out to sea to catch the next big wave. I have been very busy working with something new called Bitcoin and the underlying BlockChain that makes Bitcoin work. This wave looks like it will be a big one!
For those who never heard of Bitcoin, don't feel bad. You are not alone. I only heard of it a year ago. Bitcoin is a new form of currency that exists in digital form. Bitcoin is a virtual currency that exists only on computers running the Bitcoin BlockChain. Already there are millions of people, all around the world who are buying, selling, paying, and trading with Bitcoin. I do not wish to go into too much explanation on what Bitcoin is or how to use it. I will instead provide some links where you can start reading and possibly get involved by setting up an account on a Bitcoin Exchange. When I got started, I set up accounts on two different exchanges, Coinbase and Circle. There are many other exchanges out there and the one you choose may depend on the country you live in and the local currency. I also like to watch the price of Bitcoin change at cryptowat.ch, and watching the flow of Bitcoin transactions at blockchain.info.
Remember when credit cards started to be accepted everywhere? Who could have imagined that you could walk around with a piece of plastic and use it to buy anything you wanted. In the early 1900's, paying for things with a paper check was a whole new concept. Nowadays, people are trying to get their heads around the idea of people walking around with their smart phones and using a Bitcoin application to pay for stuff, but this is what is happening right now, all around the world!
Credit cards have had their share of problems with security. I don't know of anyone who has not had their credit card information stolen. Bitcoin is a natural solution to this problem. You can go to a website like dell.com, overstock.com, or even travelocity.com, buy whatever it is that you want to buy and pay by sending an encrypted code which represents a certain amount of Bitcoin. This code can only be used once and does not contain any information that can be used for further transactions. There is no need to trust a website with your credit card information.
Bitcoin has not caught on in the United States yet, like it has in other countries around the world, but it will. Having an alternate currency is especially appealing in countries where their local currency is not stable and inflation is out of control. Countries like Greece, Venezuela, parts of Europe, and China, just to name a few, are seeing the adoption of Bitcoin as an alternate currency.
Bitcoin is already changing the world and will continue to grow in popularity. It will not replace local currency and banking systems outright, but it will have an effect similar to the way that e-mail changed the traditional mail system. Bitcoin is in its infancy. Bitcoin was born in 2009, and is at a place that is comparable to where the Internet was in 1994, with similar growth rate. Go ahead and check out Bitcoin. It will be like getting and using your first credit card. You can be the first person on your block to have a Bitcoin account, but not for long. Sooner or later, like it or not, you will be using Bitcoin.
Like the Internet, some early adopters of Bitcoin are bad people. Remember when the first and most advanced users of the Internet were pornographers? Unfortunately, bad people are somehow the best and fastest at adapting to new technology. There has been a lot of bad press lately about drug dealing websites that take payment in Bitcoin. Prostitutes take payment in Bitcoin these days. People use Bitcoin to launder money. People discredit Bitcoin, but they do not realize that hard cash is just as evil. I prefer to focus on the good that can be done with Bitcoin, just as I preferred to focus on the good that could be done with the Internet and its underlying technology.
The thing that I am most interested is the technology that runs Bitcoin, and that is BlockChain. Bitcoin is only the first, and currently the best example of a use for BlockChain. Within a few years, BlockChain technology will radically change the world of financial and business computing. Blockchain needs to be your new vocabulary word. For many, it will open a world of opportunities.
In 1979, when the PC first came out, and well into the 80's people who worked in data processing departments running big IBM mainframe computers considered PC's to be toys to be used by hobbyists, and not capable of doing real work. I jumped into PC's, fresh out of college and was handed a project involving a database. It did not take long to prove that PC's could do real work, especially when networked together for multiple users. The world of computing changed. No longer did a company have a central mainframe computer that did all the data processing. Most mainframes have turned into scrap metal today!
There are still some problems with databases when it comes to having several users of a system that is continuously used. One problem is keeping the data backed up. The most common way of backing up data is to shut everything down in the middle of the night and make a backup. Real time backups are extremely difficult to achieve except for the most expensive databases, and even then, they don't have a perfect solution. Another problem with large databases is the ability to perform well at multiple locations. Typically a remote location would use a database application from a Remote Terminal application, or possibly a remote connection through a Virtual Private Network. The problem is performance and reliability.
BlockChain solves both of these problems. Most people still think of BlockChain as a system for handling ownership of a currency such as Bitcoin, but there is much more to it. Bitcoin is only one application of Blockchain, a very good example of a peer-to-peer data file that resides on tens of thousands of “nodes” which continuously update one another as changes are broadcast throughout the network. We are only just beginning to think of other uses for BlockChain. Some say that it will turn the world of data processing upside down. BlockChain, when you boil it down, is a distributed database with real time replication and updates.
One way to spot a new emerging technology is to take a look at where venture capitalists are investing their money --- lots and lots of money. In 2015, the biggest category for venture capital investment was in BlockChain related startup companies and projects. These small companies are all dealing with the infant technology of BlockChain and trying to develop the next “must have” application for it. It is a technology that will either propel companies into the future, or leave them behind in its dust. Imagine a company trying to do business without the Internet today.
Just as the people in mainframe data processing departments looked down on PCs and resisted their adoption, bankers are taking a dim view of Bitcoin and its growing adoption. Make no mistake about it, while they say otherwise, bankers are most concerned about how their world is going to change with Bitcoin and BlockChain. Board rooms are filled with bank executives wondering how they can keep Bitcoin from eroding their profits. Should they embrace Bitcoin, or fight it? Meanwhile they are taking a close look at their competitors to see what they are doing with Bitcoin and BlockChain. In one of the Bitcoin news sites I like to read, coindesk.com, there is an ever-growing list of articles about how such-and-such bank or stock exchange is looking at adopting BlockChain technology. The thing that they are most concerned about is being stuck with an old system of managing accounts, transferring money, and shuffling stock certificates, while those who take advantage of BlockChain will become much more efficient and competitive. Many banks will resist and ultimately be left in the dust. It seems that more and more, “BlockChain” and “BitCoin” are the new vocabulary words that executives need to learn and understand. I can remember when “Internet” was a new vocabulary word! They don't know exactly what it is, but if XYZ bank is doing it, they have to also. The race is on! Small departments or research groups are being formed to take a look at this new technology that seems to be coming on strong.
So you ask: Just what is BlockChain and what will it be used for? As I mentioned, the most common use of BlockChain today is Bitcoin. Bitcoin has proven itself as a stable and secure platform for a new currency which is starting to be used around the world. Most people think of Bitcoin and Blockchain as being one and the same, but they are not.
Think about having a checkbook and its corresponding ledger. Every time you write a check, you record the date, amount, and payee. You might make a deposit or withdraw, and that would also be represented by an entry in the ledger. With each entry, you have a “running balance” which lets you know how much money is in the account at the time. Once a new transaction is recorded, older transactions cannot be changed. If you try to go back a month or so and make a change, you would need to carry that change forward and change every newer transaction with a newly calculated running balance.
BlockChain is a system where many computers “nodes” share a ledger, or table of transactions. Each node has its own complete copy of the entire ledger which is constantly being compared to the other nodes for validity. Once an entry is made into the ledger, it cannot be changed. If someone attempts to change, insert, or remove an entry, it will throw off all transactions that occur after it. If one node's ledger is corrupted, it will be rejected by the other nodes and will need to rebuild its ledger based on the list of accepted and verified transactions. When transactions are added to the ledger (BlockChain), it is broadcast to the other nodes for verification and added to their copies of the same BlockChain. These transactions go on and on and the BlockChain that records them continues to grow.
Entries in BlockChains could represent other things not having anything to do with currencies. Eventually stock markets will have all their transactions on BlockChains, and paper stock certificates will be a thing of the past. Imagine how much money will be saved in the efficiency of not having to deal with paper stock certificates. Anything representing ownership of something can be recorded on a BlockChain. Titles for property, automobiles, any document that we might have notarized, public records, the proof of existence of an idea or piece of artwork can be recorded through a process of vmware-modconfig-2158.loghashing. BlockChain will be seen as reliable evidence, used by lawyers and accepted in court cases. Any item in a BlockChain can be quickly retrieved and its existence verified.
The next big thing, the next great technology to get into is BlockChain. Businesses and consulting firms are aggressively trying to hire new talent coming out of colleges to work on BlockChain projects. This will leave a void of people who can work on older systems. This is exactly how mainframes died, or simply faded away. There was nobody willing to spend their efforts learning to program and maintain old, outdated technology. That was the way it was when I got out of school. I jumped straight into PC's and didn't even bother or have the desire to do much with mainframe systems. New systems and applications are going to be developed with BlockChain technology. That is where the future of computing is going.
At this point, we are experimenting with different BlockChains that we have set up and are running on our own servers. We don't just talk about Blockchain. We have our hands in it every day and are developing a working knowledge so that we may develop future applications and take advantage of opportunities that are sure to come.
If you are a company that knows that you will eventually need to adopt this BlockChain technology, give us a call to see if we can work together on a project and build a BlockChain for your needs. We plan to conduct some training seminars to explain and show off this new technology as well as get people thinking about how it can be applied. There will be much more to come on the subject of BlockChain.