By Paul Liesenberg and Tugrul Firatli
Networking world – something new may be coming your way! We’ve added some REST APIs to the networking mix to fit into a more dynamic business environment, but all in all TCP, UDP, RTP, MPLS and a few routing protocols (EIGRP, OSPF and BGP) have ruled the landscape for a very long time.
While use cases for Blockchain technology abound in pretty much every potential market, the networking world still seems to be shrugging its shoulders and wondering what to do with it. Networking is busy enough transforming itself to fit a DevOps-minded world to accommodate another transformative technology, right?
Well, there seem to finally be some solid use cases for distributed-ledger technology (DLT) -which has become de-facto synonymous with Blockchain; and while inaccurate but we’ll use the term here- in the networking world. Unsurprisingly, they circle around use cases where consensus is required to perform, secure and immutably record a transaction. If you think about, it seems a bit of a “duh?” thing, because consensus and security is a critical requirement for the network to build into its DNA. The consensus protocol itself can protect a world of RESTful controllers in Intent-Based Networking from pushing policies that may be toxic – which is a huge exposure in Intent-Based Networking that is not even remotely discussed enough. Because if hackers can mess up major Websites’ reachability by hijacking a BGP-route through a poorly protected BGP peer (which seems to happen a couple of time a year)… what do you think they can do when they crack an Orchestrator or Controller for a large network?
Hence, there are some obvious use cases that I will just describe at a high level:
• Critical routing updates: BGP, the routing protocol that controls Internet routing and hence availability, relies on establishing a peering environment manually for “security”. There is lots -too much, as some outages show- of implicit trust when manually configuring a peer. Once in, peers can -intentionally or by falling prey to another peer they configured- poison your routing tables. And suddenly your network is just reachable via very questionable routes, or not at all. Blockchain technology’s consensus algorithms (there are a couple to pick from, the popular Proof-of-Work is by far not the only one) are truly a mid-term no-brainer here.
• IoT Networking: The great news for networking is that billions and billions of devices are going online with IoT. The bad news is… as you clearly can’t manage that manually, how do you ensure your automated IoT device onboarding doesn’t fail prey to attacks? Ever heard of a wolf disguising as a sheep? Blockchain technology provides consensus, but even more important here is traceability: any IoT device joining via IoT will have its complete imprint revealed and indelibly recorded. You can’t get out of the Blockchain. Who you are, what you did, and what transactions you tried to execute will be forever imprinted in the Blockchain. Traceability is a key deterrent in attacks.
• Administrative settlements: One little-known reality of Internet traffic is that, while the ISP you’re paying may give you traffic guarantees that they can enforce within their own network (as in you mark bulk and voice traffic differently), as soon as your traffic leaves that environment (which in a global digital economy happens all the time) you are on your own. Few internet service providers feel motivated to guarantee another ISP’s priority markings, since their “settlement” happens in terms of bulk traffic as a rule. Blockchain can provide a mechanism for several ISP to reach consensus on settlements that go beyond sheer bulk traffic, since every ISP involved can now collaborate in a consensus mechanism.
• Trusted Workflow for IBN Orchestration and Controller: IBN brings much needed agility and operational efficiency to networking. However, the power orchestration and controllers are gaining over the network infrastructure will surely attract the breaching forces of evil every enterprise should fear. Without a network, business comes to a screeching halt. Clearly enterprises need to zealously protect their network infrastructure, and with IBN more than ever. Blockchain technology enables secure, trusted workflows and can surround the orchestrator/controller infrastructure with a key element for workflow security and -again- immutability.
I am sure there are so many others. The conundrum of the Internet is that, while the universal connectivity proved radically transformative, it’s now become a liability. Hence mechanisms like encryption, firewalls and micro-segmentation try to defeat the universal connectivity paradigm. But if you think about it – they are just defensive mechanisms. And a pure defensive play may just indicate that you resigned yourself to lose a war – only slower. Blockchain technology fundamentally can change the battlefield strategy. Consensus, traceability and immutability are powerful tools.
Networking has become the key infrastructure of the digital economy. And as it moves to being software defined, it is sure to attract even more attention from potential attackers. The power of IBN also implies that half a nation’s economy can be disrupted by malicious configuration. All in all, it does look like network operation workflows ought to be a primary target of Blockchain technology.
BCware provides the benefits of Blockchain in a way that abstracts them from overarching applications and use cases. All of the networking use cases showcased above can be implemented on top of BCware’s “Blockchain Middleware APIs”. One of them in fact already is. BCware is looking for more partners to address the rest.