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What are the pros and cons of blockchain in networking?

While blockchain could be a valuable network management tool, enterprises don't exactly have a driving need for the ledger technology in the networking arena.

Nine years after blockchain was first successfully deployed as a secure ledger system to underpin the bitcoin cryptocurrency's...

transactions, new use cases for the technology are emerging. Blockchain proponents are touting the technology, which is engineered to create a permanent fixed record in each block on the chain, as a solution for everything from secure supply chain management to asset tokenization for financial services.

Evangelists are also pitching the use of blockchain in networking. Vendors, including Cisco, have talked up the role blockchain could play in network management. Specifically, it could support configuration and asset management by providing a secure record of all changes that have been implemented throughout a device's lifecycle.

Proponents of blockchain in networking argue the distributed transaction ledger provides a straightforward and secure way to map all changes throughout highly decentralized networks. Each block of data would provide time-stamped cryptographic documentation of a configuration change to the specific network resource. The first block would represent the initial state of the asset at deployment, and the last block would denote its configuration as the resource is taken permanently offline.

The argument for blockchain in networking is it could build out a certifiable and complete outline of each device's configuration history on the network. This could streamline functions like adapting firewall rule changes to fit the network's current state by overcoming inconsistent record keeping associated with removing a device from the network.

Blockchain could affect adjacent areas of networking

There is a certain elegance to applying blockchain to network lifecycle management as a verifiable and secure record of all assets. In practice, though, there doesn't seem to be a driving need.

Significant development efforts would be required to make the distributed ledger model function in a highly distributed, heterogeneous network. The standardization that would be required to make blockchain an effective networking service would be a Herculean task. Plus, blockchain addresses a problem that's not exactly a top priority for most organizations.

Additionally, most organizations in heavily regulated industries -- where compliance dictates strict record keeping of configuration changes -- have developed a trusted resource in their configuration management database.

That said, blockchain could play an important role in other adjacent areas in networking. One of the most often discussed use cases for the ledger technology is as a mechanism to manage distributed digital identities. Blockchain could provide a decentralized and unassailable way to verify identities of users and devices across the internet. 

Stay tuned as serious development efforts in this essential area of networking continue.

This was last published in November 2018

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