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Cisco says blockchain ledger technology has networking role

Cisco predicts blockchain ledger technology could play a role in managing networks built on switches, firewalls and other appliances from multiple vendors.

Cisco believes blockchain is likely to play a significant role in network management with early adopters of the distributed ledger technology surfacing within three years.

Cisco is helping to steer blockchain's ascendancy in networking through membership in industry development efforts. Last week, the company joined the governing board of the Linux Foundation's Hyperledger Project, an open source intiative to develop cross-industry blockchain technologies. The 18-member board includes big names in finance, banking, manufacturing and technology. Other tech vendors in the blockchain ledger effort include IBM, Intel and SAP.

Today, blockchain is used to create a permanent, tamper-proof ledger of cryptocurrency transactions. The virtual currency that uses blockchain for record-keeping includes Bitcoin, Litecoin and Namecoin.

But the record-keeping capabilities of blockchain ledger technology also make it useful in managing network appliances built by different vendors. Examples include switches, routers, firewalls and internet of things gateways. "[Basically,] any device that has the ability to host a blockchain client," said Anoop Nannra, the head of Cisco's blockchain effort.

Blockchain ledger technology in network management

The blockchain ledger technology is promising in environments where network management is done through a centralized controller. The instrument, typically found in SDN, is used to make appliances available on the network and to configure them for policy enforcement. Cisco has two controllers: one for managing its hardware in the data center and the other for the campus.

There are a number of reasons why an appliance's state would change, but being able to track that and have the historical data around it is potentially powerful.
Anoop Nannrasenior leader, Cisco

The blockchain ledger could make those management tasks possible across multiple vendors' devices by keeping a secure record of an appliance's current state and its configuration history. Both ensure that changes made to a device do not lead to a network outage.

"There are a number of reasons why an appliance's state would change, but being able to track that and have the historical data around it is potentially powerful," Nannra said.

Work on making blockchain an SDN component is just beginning within the Hyperledger Project. Therefore, participants have yet to agree on how tightly products need to interoperate or the best technology for delivering enterprise-level performance, scalability and security.

Nevertheless, Nannra sees progress in the work. "It's probably less than five [years] when we're going to start seeing more network appliances being blockchain-enabled," he said.

Early adopters will likely appear within three years, Nannra predicted. Small and medium-sized deployments will start in the five years after the initial use cases, followed by adoption by large enterprises.

When asked whether Cisco customers should prepare for blockchain, Nannra said, "I think so," but quickly added, "We're going to be moving in the direction that we think is good and healthy for our customers."

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