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How Blockchain May Bring Greater Trust to IoT


Potential ways blockchain can provide support to IoT networks include provisioning, usage tracing, and asset decommissioning.

Blockchain — the most popular distributed ledger technology used to globally keep track of events and transactions — may be a good fit for the industrial internet of things. It enables usage tracing, logging service issues, and ensuring security.

That’s the gist of an analysis of the technology’s applicability to the industrial IoT, recently published by the Industrial Internet Consortium. Potential ways blockchain can provide support to these networks include provisioning, usage tracing, and asset decommissioning. Other common use cases for blockchain include device monitoring to log service-level agreement violations, edge autonomy to log fault protocols, and industrial IoT services such as odometer fraud protection.

See also: Blockchain for Master Data Management

While the technology is promising, IoT architects and administrators need to “consider the system’s performance and trustworthiness aspects as well as network reliability, bandwidth, and latency, as well as solution usage attributes,” the report’s authors caution.

They offer three design patterns by which blockchain over IoT can be deployed, based on the use of “wallets” that contain the public and private key pairs needed to create and access user data:

Platform-controlled wallet. This pattern assumes that all data and control flows are managed centrally by the platform tier. “The central platform makes all the decisions and controls the wallets,” the IIC authors state. “For example, the platform monitors the data coming in from the truck in the field and logs it in the time-series database of the platform. So as not to overload the blockchain, only significant events are logged.” Drawbacks to this approach are the requirement that “all parties involved to trust the link from the truck to the platform,” and that “data access rights remain with the platform provider.”

Asset-controlled wallet. This next pattern assumes that “every asset has an embedded wallet to sign and access its data on the blockchain or provide access to the data. For example, trusted platform module (TPM) technology can be used to implement a specialized hardware that cannot be tampered with in the field. It provides a secure storage of the corresponding wallet. The software running on this hardware is directly deployed on the asset and it will decide which data to write to the blockchain.” Potential issues include the need for “potentially costly custom hardware, and potentially higher development and maintenance costs, due to the fully distributed nature of the system.”

Smart contracts enhancement. This pattern can be integrated into either of the two above patterns. “A smart contract enables an independent execution of business logic between stakeholders,” and “implements business logic directly embedded into the blockchain. This means that—due to the distributed and cryptographic nature of blockchain—both the logged data and the business logic are tamper-proof. It will only be executed if the maturity of distributed nodes in the blockchain agree about the outcome of a decision.”


About Joe McKendrick

Joe McKendrick is RTInsights Industry Editor and industry analyst focusing on artificial intelligence, digital, cloud and Big Data topics. His work also appears in Forbes an Harvard Business Review. Over the last three years, he served as co-chair for the AI Summit in New York, as well as on the organizing committee for IEEE's International Conferences on Edge Computing. (full bio). Follow him on Twitter @joemckendrick.

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