Oracle rolls out its own blockchain service

Oracle joins IBM, SAP, and Microsoft in offering blockchain-as-a-service for companies hoping to deploy the distributed ledger technology without the expenses associated with embracing the technology in-house.

Oracle wants in on the blockchain-as-a-service game, too.

The company on Monday announced the availability of a fully-managed blockchain service over which businesses can automate processes over an immutable electronic ledger, such as tracking goods in a supply chain or handling customer financial transactions.

Blockchain-as-a-service {BaaS) offerings have grown over the past three years, enabling businesses to launch proof-of-concepts to test the distributed ledger technology without the capital costs required by an internal deployment. Other BaaS providers include IBM, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE), Microsoft, SAP and Amazon Web Services.

Oracle first previewed its Blockchain Cloud Service at OpenWorld in October. The new offering is based on the Linux Foundation's open source Hyperledger Fabric platform, a collaboration tool for building blockchain distributed ledger business networks such as smart contract technology.

Oracle also announced it has a handful of early BaaS adopters who've rolled out proof-of-concepts, including Arab Jordan Investment Bank, CargoSmart, Certified Origins, Intelipost, Nigeria Customs and Solar Site Design.

For example, Tuscany, Italy-based olive oil producer Certified Origins rolled out a blockchain PoC in early 2018 that it's now moving into production to trace – from origin to retailer – shipments of its Bellucci-brand of extra virgin olive oil.

"The main purpose for which the project was born, and what we are evaluating in these days of testing, is the Blockchain algorithm that is related to the greater transparency that we can provide thanks to traceability," Andrea Biagianti, CIO of Certified Origins, said in an email reply.

While Certified Origin's business model has always been built on the supply chain traceability of its olive oil, and it has received several government certifications for that, managing its supply chain through blockchain technology "seemed the logical progression of the whole traceability process," Biagianti said.

"The next step, and further evolution of our blockchain system, will be the accurate and precise management of the smart contract in order to give the system the automatic method of evaluating production choices," Biagianti said. "The assessments that today are performed by the operator will be performed by the smart contract and this will allow the team to spend more time for operational and quality checks."

A smart contract is a blockchain-based business automation tool that executes against pre-determined rules based on embedded code. For example, once a cargo shipment is acknowledged as received from a shipper, payment can automatically be transferred from a bank to the manufacturer and/or the shipping company.

Another aspect of blockchain Biagianti likes is its distributed nature, which makes it more secure and unalterable.

"Today the choice has proven to be successful and this partnership is helping us to make Bellucci... the first global brand in its category with a blockchain-based traceability," Biagianti said.

Lionel Louie, Chief Commerce Officer for CargoSmart, a global shipment management software provider, said his company is using Oracle's BaaS to create an industrial blockchain network for global shipping.

Today, global shipping is supported by dated paper processes among many stakeholders and across countries, Louie said.

"Our solution is designed to create a digital baseline of trusted shipment documentation management across the entire industry. Shippers, forwarders, carriers, truckers, (and) customs can collaborate more efficiently on the basis that this platform provides the single version of truth, immutable audit trail with low latency," Louie said in an email response.

CargoSmart will also leverage other Oracle services in conjunction with its blockchain offering, including its Identity Management Cloud, Process Cloud, Integration Cloud  and Java Cloud.

With blockchain, Louie said, CargoSmart's business partners will no longer have to use a centralized database for recording their transactions, "which could be altered by a third party.

"Every organization in the network [will] hold immutable, permissioned and distributed ledger that is the same across the network; they get the same view of the transaction details. This could help minimize disputes and documentation discrepancies in our industry," Louie added.

Ayman Qadoumi, general manager of IT and security for the Arab Jordan Investment Bank, said Oracle's blockchain platform has helped the firm minimize the complexity of electronic fund transfers by reducing costs, increasing efficiency and security levels, and ultimately improving the overall customer experience.

"The built-in features such as identity management and data encryption made it an ideal choice, given our industry requirements and compliance needs. Additionally, the REST APIs helped us and our vendors accelerate application development and integration with existing core services," Qadoumi said in a statement.

Amit Zavery, executive vice president of Oracle's Cloud Platform, said his company has added many features to the Hyperledger blockchain specification to make it easier to use, including APIs, software patch management, data backup, and the general lifecycle management of the blockchain network through its service.

"The goal for us is to make it very simple for any developer to build a blockchain-based application," Zavery said. "It's enterprise-grade capable, so that it can scale, it's secure, it understands the intrigracies of an enterprise-based application with a set of APIs."

As is the Hyperledger Fabric specification on which it's based, Oracle's Blockchain Cloud Service is a development platform that can be used by a company to build their own networks. Oracle said its service allows blockchain to easily integrate it with Oracle SaaS and third-party applications a customer may already use, as well as other blockchain networks and Oracle platform-as-a-service offerings. It also enables users to provision blockchain networks, join other organizations, and deploy and run smart contracts to update and query the ledger, Zavery said.

Oracle, Zavery said, has "future proofed" its implementation of blockchain so that as the Hyperledger specification evolves and adds new features, a customer's developers won't have to keep re-writing their company's application based on their specific blockchain implementation.

"We provide them with set of abstractions – APIs – so they can keep using [the blockchain distributed ledger] while adding new features that may be happening in the blockchain ecosystem," Zavery said.

The Blockchain Cloud Service can be used without a contract through a "pay-as-you-go" option or through a monthly, yearly or multi-year deal. Customers can also sign up for a 30-day free trial of the cloud service.

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