Blockchain Enabled Industrial Strength Trust for Modern Business Environments
Practitioners in the telecommunications space are almost universally aware of the ISO/OSI network management models. These models, along with work done in the International Telecommunications Union, have long defined the dominant model for fault, configuration, account, performance, and security management, or FCAPS.
Over the last two to three decades, FCAPS has become a proven approach to network management that works very well in a centralized, single-provider environment. Increasingly though, many companies today have distributed workloads that may run across multiple cloud networks. In this case, what metrics are there to ensure that a workload, and indeed an end-to-end workflow, is being executed correctly? If there is a fault, how do you know which cloud provider is responsible? If there is a compromise to your workflow, how do know where, to what degree, and how long it went undetected?
Blockchain technology presents both a challenge and an opportunity in this space. In an enterprise blockchain operating environment, credentialed participants are part of a self-managed ecosystem facilitating the movement and validation of high value transactions. Providing operational integrity transparency that covers FCAPS requirements across the entire ecosystem could be one of the single largest barriers to mainstream enterprise blockchain adoption. That’s the challenge.
The opportunity is that blockchain technology can also facilitate distributing FCAPS capabilities across multiple administrative domains. It is commonly understood, but hardly realized or practiced at this nascent stage, that enterprise blockchain solutions must be implemented with the rigor of critical infrastructure systems. While FCAPS traditionally covers the telecommunication industry well, the methodology used to implement and execute FCAPS requirements can also be useful for developing blockchain critical systems. Traversing administrative domains is where blockchain technology may be able to deliver value while at the same time knocking down potential barriers to broader adoption.
Blockchain technology is uniquely able to apply management tools across multiple heterogeneous networks.
Consider some of the ways blockchain can help decentralize FCAPS capabilities:
Fault management can be supported by creating hashed snapshots—or digital representations—of the state of each vendor’s network and sharing them across the entire multi-vendor blockchain ecosystem. If and when faults occur, an ecosystem-wide data log is immediately available and with new fault recovery tools, the appropriate response can be executed.
A blockchain network could be used to plan and record configuration management for workflows that span multiple operators and are highly sensitive to operational changes. Having visibility, or at least an agreed upon level of operational transparency, could yield a competitive advantage for infrastructure providers seeking to push transparency as a key differentiator.
For account management, and for that matter administration management for non-billing networks, blockchain technology is uniquely suited to record and track the participation of ecosystem operational teams and their coordination of workflows or machine-to-machine peering payments between infrastructure providers. Blockchain adoption for this function may spawn a new era of high efficiency just-in-time business enablement or a new model for Internet exchange monetization.
Performance management in the blockchain space is an area that, outside of delivering high performance blockchains, has seen little to no activity. However, as a tool for supporting network performance compliance, blockchain technology could be leveraged to provide an immutable record of “by transaction” network performance. Again, when used as a common framework across a collection of providers, this could be a competitive advantage for an ecosystem.
And finally, security management is an area where blockchain technology may be very well suited. As complex workflows span multiple providers and servicers, a single view to an ecosystem’s overall security posture may be challenging to deliver without blockchain technology. Enabling classical threat prevention, threat monitoring, and threat remediation with blockchain could deliver on one of the many promises that threat intelligence collaboration tools have yet to fully deliver, all the while maintaining confidentiality and providing an immutable record of cybersecurity health.
Naturally, some FCAPS concepts may see blockchain adoption before others, and some aspects may never see blockchain adoption. However, the ability for FCAPS to be implemented in a fully decentralized fashion supporting increasingly heterogeneous networks and resources may yield both competitive advantages and some significant monetization opportunities. That said, it is still too early to know the full potential, as there is still much work to be done to truly understand the impact of blockchain technology in this space.
As part of the Trusted IoT Alliance, Cisco and other companies are working to define common models and methods that may be used to implement some of these decentralized FCAPS concepts. Specifically focusing on the smart contract layer, the first place to start is with registration. Registering a device, be it an NFC tag, a video sensor, or even a network appliance, is a keystone function in any network and in a blockchain network, this is no exception. Alliance founders have been working together on early experiments demonstrating that device registration in a blockchain-agnostic approach is indeed possible to achieve. While this early success is a good indicator of what might be possible, there are new challenges being discovered and there is much work to be done over the coming months to refine and harden the models and methods being developed. Look out for some great work ahead.