Most of the discussion about blockchain technology centers on the software side of things - how DApps and smart contracts can improve transactions, how blockchain protocols can be optimized and so on.
But you need hardware to operate a blockchain, too. And if you're a large enterprise, you probably don't want to settle for the "mining rigs" that have become popular among miners on public blockchains like Bitcoin. You want enterprise-class hardware designed with the specific needs of enterprise blockchain applications in mind.
So where do you look if you're seeking enterprise-class software and hardware blockchain technologies? SAP and Intel hope you'll turn to them. This month, the companies announced a new partnership designed to bring integrated software and hardware blockchain solutions to the enterprise.
Vying for a Piece of the Blockchain Pie
If you follow enterprise blockchain news, you're probably familiar with SAP's recent ventures into the world of blockchain software. In June, the German-based company announced a blockchain service for its enterprise cloud computing platform, called SAP Cloud Platform Blockchain. It's designed to help enterprises and enterprise consortiums build blockchains using SAP's cloud infrastructure.
At the same time, the company announced a solution called SAP HANA Blockchain, which makes it possible to use SAP's cloud-based data management tools in conjunction with blockchain data. That may sound relatively boring from a business point of view, but from a technical perspective, SAP HANA Blockchain could be a groundbreaking project. It enables users to interact with data stored on a blockchain (provided the blockchain lives in SAP's cloud) using standard SQL queries, instead of having to learn a new set of skills.
For its part, Intel has not jumped into the distributed ledger world as wholeheartedly. Apart from its work on Hyperledger Sawtooth , the chip maker hasn't made many headlines for its moves in the blockchain ecosystem.
It turns out, however, that Intel has been quietly working on hardware optimizations in its processors that it said "can improve the privacy, security, scalability and trust across blockchain networks" and build what it terms " Trusted Infrastructure ." Although the company has yet to release detailed documentation about how these optimizations work in conjunction with blockchain applications specifically, it indicated that they include optimizations for cryptographic algorithms, which can be useful for speeding the heavy-duty number crunching that is part and parcel for most blockchain architectures.
It also said that its Software Guard Extensions feature "can help protect blockchain transactions, and help improve throughput and consensus efficiency." That feature basically allows developers to enable hardware-level protections that prevent certain code from being modified or accessed. However, it wasn't designed specifically for blockchain-related applications, and Intel might be overselling the feature's ability to secure blockchain transactions. It's unclear how the ability to protect code translates into more secure transactions on a decentralized network. But it likely can't hurt.
Either way, what is clear is that by combining software and hardware solutions - not to mention the considerable marketing power and mindshare within enterprise IT communities - SAP and Intel are hoping to give each other a leg up as they compete with other enterprise-focused blockchain vendors, like IBM and Microsoft.
It's worth noting that, so far, Intel and SAP haven't actually done much together involving the blockchain beyond proof-of-concept projects like SAP Global Track and Trace , which SAP created in partnership with Intel and other companies. It remains to be seen whether this new partnership will translate into real, enterprise-class blockchain innovations. But both companies seem intent on making that happen, and we'll be following them to see how they move from proofs of concept to production-ready solutions.