As more blockchain applications go live and existing production deployments scale to larger business networks and bigger transaction volumes, Oracle has recently released the second generation of Oracle Blockchain Platform Cloud Service. This post discusses in detail the advantages it brings to customers.
According to Deloitte’s “2020 Global Blockchain Survey: From promise to reality,” which surveyed 1,488 senior executives and practitioners in 14 countries, 39% are using blockchain in production in 2020 compared to 23% in the 2019 survey, with the figure rising to 46% for organizations with revenue over US$1 billion. In addition, IDC’s “Worldwide Blockchain 2020 Predictions” report highlights that over one-third of the nearly US$11B forecasted spend on Blockchain Services by 2023 will be on managed services, with more than 80% of organizations in 2020 using Blockchain-as-a-Service (BaaS) as the first priority for blockchain infrastructure when implementing blockchain initiatives. As Blockchain implementations move from experimentation to production, and the technology turns the corner from early adopters to wider acceptance, the products that support customer implementations must also evolve to meet customer needs.
Driven by customer feedback, the new generation of Oracle’s managed Blockchain-as-a-Service platform on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) provides significant new advantages for production blockchain deployments and decentralized business networks.
Numerous industry studies have noted that many blockchain projects do not reach production stage, with some hitting limitations due to immature technology stacks, which do not provide enterprise-grade resilience required for business-critical applications or are difficult to scale with sufficient agility and granularity to meet the needs of the production workloads in an affordable manner. When enterprise blockchains involve multiple competing organizations (e.g., competing suppliers to a major manufacturer or competing carriers in a shipping network) the transparency of a distributed ledger may run contrary to confidentiality or privacy needs in a business relationships or regulatory requirements, and the limited options for transaction or data confidentiality in the current frameworks may not be sufficiently powerful or granular.
“With this release, Oracle advances the Oracle Blockchain Platform to a new level of dynamic scalability, high availability, and confidentiality for enterprise blockchain applications running on Oracle Cloud,” said Frank Xiong, Group VP, Blockchain Product Development in Oracle. “We’ve enhanced our architecture to take advantage of the higher resilience and improved price/performance enabled by Oracle Cloud Infrastructure. This provides options for customers to dynamically scale-out and scale-up their configurations to better match their evolving workloads. The new version of Oracle Blockchain Cloud Service is designed to help customers comply with regulations, confidentiality, and information governance needs. We also continue to leverage the advancements of community-verified open source Hyperledger Fabric releases, including support for a decentralized RAFT consensus protocol.”
This new generation of Oracle Blockchain Platform has been architected to meet three key objectives:
“We jumped at the chance to upgrade to the new Oracle Blockchain Platform Cloud Service because we prefer the more predictable pricing model as well as dynamic scaling,” said Douglas Johnson-Poensgen, CEO of Circulor. “The migration was fast and painless.”
Since the launch of Oracle Blockchain Platform two years ago, many of our customers have gone live with a broad range of blockchain applications and workloads. These use cases include tracking provenance of food and fashion products, electric vehicle battery components, and luxury goods; tracking millions of maritime shipments; recording thousands of e-KYC verifications for instant bank account opening, and many other production applications. As these customers expand their networks and scale transaction volumes, the new release delivers:
"The dynamic scaling changes everything. We can allow retailers, who use our platform for tracking product provenance information, to run at full throttle with massive engines when they need them, but cut costs when they are not required,” said Peter Merkert, Co-founder of retraced. “Further, there is a central audit log mechanism out of the box in OCI for all our cloud services, which is now also used by the new generation of the Oracle Blockchain Platform. Unlike before, we can see configuration changes for all services in one place.”
Permissioned blockchain networks typically start with a few member organizations and grow to include many more members over time. Increasingly, the governance of the network becomes an important consideration in providing equal rights and treatment among the members. This includes the ordering responsibilities – the process of sequencing transactions and grouping them into ledger blocks. In prior releases this ordering was done by ordering service nodes using Kafka messages to achieve consensus on the sequence of transactions in the block. Because Kafka’s best performing configuration is when its brokers all run in a single site, the ordering nodes were also provided by a single organization – the network Founder.
With the new release, the ordering consensus mechanism has been upgraded to RAFT – a dynamic leader-based protocol based on a replicated state machine approach, which removes the need for Kafka and enables orderers from multiple organizations to cooperate in an ordering cluster. With this change, any blockchain instances in the network can run OSNs and join them to selected channels in order to participate in a decentralized ordering process. The result is more uniform and distributed governance with all members being able to participate equally. In addition, removing dependence on Kafka and Zookeeper to keep the platform running reduces operational complexity and saves resources previously consumed by these components.
As mentioned above, with RAFT, this release can use groups of orderers provided by blockchain platform instances deployed across multiple Oracle Cloud Infrastructure regions, and even non-Oracle Fabric nodes in third-party vendor clouds, to allow a widely distributed geo-redundant ordering cluster that can continue to operate even if one of the regions or its communications are down. With RAFT, it is important to remember that its operation requires a majority of the initial quorum of OSNs to be available. Thus, if you start with a quorum of N OSNs, you can lose some of them as long as the remaining number still constitutes a majority (N/2 + 1) of the initial N OSNs. The speed of the network links between orderers is also important to keep in mind when benchmarking for high throughput requirements. Oracle Cloud Infrastructure regions use high-bandwidth, fault-tolerant network links with at least 100 Gbps between them and consistent latency (as low as 75ms within US and as low as 75ms US to EU).
When customers are experimenting and running pilots, transaction-based pricing of the current instances is elastic and affordable. But as workloads move to production and transaction rates become much higher, customers may want a less elastic pricing model and one that’s more predictable and not dependent on external transactions.
In this release we introduce OCPU-hour based pricing metrics to respond to these needs. The configuration of the instances is measured in OCPUs and storage resources allocated to them. In fact, there are two SKUs: Standard – providing a low cost fixed configuration for development and testing, and Enterprise – providing a highly resilient and dynamically scalable configuration, where OCPUs and storage can be expanded. The table below shows the two newly available SKUs and their configuration details.
The initial number of OCPUs and storage in an Enterprise instance can be adjusted up or down (but not below the minimum) dynamically using the Control Panel, and the new numbers will be reported into the billing system once the scaling operation has been completed. For the pricing of OCPU-hr and storage, please refer here.
In addition to the new pricing metric, two new customer options are introduced in this release:
For customers using current versions of Oracle Blockchain Platform Cloud Service, Oracle will provide a migration capability to the new release with no loss of ledger data or configuration information.
This overview blog post kicks off a series over the coming weeks, which will further explore the technical advantages of this release in depth, covering topics such as:
 Deloitte, “Deloitte’s 2020 Global Blockchain Survey,” Linda Pawczuk, Jonathan Holdowsky, Rob Massey, Brian Hansen, June 2020, https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/topics/understanding-blockchain-potential/global-blockchain-survey.html?id=us:2el:3pr:4di6608:5awa:6di:061620:&pkid=1007151
 IDC, “IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Blockchain 2020 Predictions,” James Wester, Alison Close, Steven D’Alfonso, Rivka Gewirtz Little, Yu Xue, Scott Lundstrom, Simon Piff, Jeff Rivkin, Jeff Yong Xun Xie, Shawn P. McCarthy, October 2019, https://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=US44538119