Blockchain is one of today’s hottest technology buzzwords. And at the same time, the concept of DevOps has achieved acceptance and is gaining momentum. Blockchain and DevOps already offer a number of benefits individually. Together, they can provide significant tactical and strategic advantages. However, some challenges must be overcome simply to adopt blockchain, as well as to successfully merge blockchain and DevOps.
What is Blockchain?
Let’s start with an overview of blockchain. Many people mistakenly conflate cryptocurrency and blockchain, because many of the key features of cryptocurrency are a function of blockchain. But blockchain is a separate and unique concept that has applications and benefits far beyond cryptocurrency.
Blockchain is a distributed account ledger, the use of which enables data to be processed and stored securely. Blockchain relies on three core concepts—peer-to-peer networks, public-key cryptography and distributed consensus that is based on the resolution of a random mathematical challenge. Reliance on these three concepts allows blockchain transactions to be secure and relatively anonymous. Every transaction is recorded in the ledger as a data block that is appended to the end of the chain of previous transactions. No group or individual owns or controls the ledger, and all parties can view the chain of transactions, ensuring transparency and integrity.
A number of key features make blockchain attractive. Data is validated across all participating nodes, which eliminates the need to reconcile transactions. The use of distributed consensus provides a high degree of confidence, but transactions in the chain also can be verified easily. Blockchains are immutable—new data can be appended, but blocks of data already in the chain cannot be modified or removed. Finally, blockchain reduces costs and improves the efficiency of processing transactions and storing data due to its decentralized architecture.
The challenge facing organizations wanting to adopt blockchain, however, is how to incorporate it seamlessly with DevOps development processes and culture.
DevOps for Blockchain Development
Organizations need to address challenges in three major areas to take advantage of blockchain: culture, process and tools.
On the culture front, the success of blockchain depends on support at the executive level as well as adequate budget and resources for proper implementation. If you can’t find champions within the organization to drive the blockchain cause, your project is doomed before it starts.
Whether you’re building a blockchain within a single company or a blockchain network that includes nodes outside your organization, obtaining widespread agreement on the technology and blockchain processes can be an issue. The absence of widespread industry adoption or any sort of standardized tools or processes adds complexity.
Finding the right talent can also be a problem—and once you find it, you may have to pay a premium to obtain it. According to a recent article in TechCrunch, “Blockchain-related jobs are the second-fastest growing in today’s labor market; there are now 14 job openings for every one blockchain developer.”
From a process perspective, blockchain is an emerging concept that lacks mature management principles or design standards. The process framework, and the different roles involved, are still unclear. Most organizations lack expertise concerning the blockchain application stack and environment; in addition, the metrics that should be monitored to measure efficiency and performance are not yet well-defined.
The absence of development tools is another major hurdle for blockchain. The developer tools currently available for the blockchain ecosystem are unreliable. The blockchain ecosystem still needs an integrated development environment with good linters and plug-ins, a build tool and compiler, a deployment tool, documentation, testing frameworks, debugging tools, logging tools, security auditing and analytics. While some versions of these tools exist, they are not yet adequate to meet the needs of blockchain developers.
It is also important to understand that, although many blockchain implementations are based on open source technology, blockchain isn’t free. Keeping track of transactions requires hardware, networking bandwidth, electricity and processing power. Because a blockchain ledger is distributed, transactions aren’t just processed once—they are processed on every node in the blockchain network. As a trusted network grows, the associated costs skyrocket. These expenses can be a barrier that prevents smaller organizations from experimenting with the technology.
Integrating Security into DevOps
If you are thinking about implementing blockchain, some of the core principles of DevOps—specifically DevSecOps—come in handy. DevOps is built on the concept of breaking down silos within an organization and enabling each team and individual to take responsibility for the project as a whole, rather than separating tasks by role.
To implement blockchain successfully, you need a system that rewards innovation and supports teams of individuals who work together to address any issues. Integrating DevOps and security fosters stronger application security throughout the software development life cycle and helps with blockchain development efforts as well.
The shift-left philosophy and the push for automation are DevOps principles that also will serve you well with blockchain. Integrating security earlier in the life cycle—shifting left—and incorporating automated security testing and security bug tracking are essential. The blockchain network needs to be tested for performance and latency, which will vary depending on the size of the network, the expected transaction size, the consensus protocol used and the associated required latencies. It is also important to determine whether the integrity of the network and the shared blockchain ledger is maintained while testing throughput.
To maximize efficiency and productivity, put processes in place that allow you to consistently monitor and adjust, based on feedback. Track individual and overall security vulnerabilities, the amount of time it takes to detect them, the amount of time it takes to remediate them, and other factors relevant to application security. These metrics should be visible to every individual so that each can understand and take ownership of the appropriate elements.
Blockchain and DevOps
Blockchain technology is poised to change the way business is conducted today due to its promises such as of secure, immutable, peer-to-peer decentralized trust networks with distributed consensus, shared account ledgers and smart contracts.
These same advantages, however, introduce a host of additional considerations to blockchain-based applications and make for greater testing challenges. Not only is the change in technology significant, significant changes are also necessary from a business process standpoint. While blockchain applications will have to go through standard testing and validation, including functional testing, integration testing, security testing and performance testing, they also will require additional specialized testing for smart contracts and peer/node testing.
DevOps practices can provide great value to organizations under pressure to become more customer-centric and innovation-focused. The efficiency, quality and consistency that adopting DevOps provides is exactly what is required for traditional organizations looking to embrace the leading-edge technology known as blockchain.