A No-BS Guide to the Blockchain as a Service Space Part II

A Pragmatic Perspective of the Top Cloud Blockchain Runtimes

This is the second part of an article that presents some pragmatic viewpoints about emerging blockchain as a service(BaaS) space. The first part of the article presented some general idea about the adoption of BaaS runtime as an enabler of blockchain solutions as well as a criteria for evaluating BaaS solutions in the real world. Today, I would like to deep dive into some of the most relevant BaaS platforms in the market and provide some analysis from both the technical and market readiness standpoint. This is by no means an exhaustive analysis of the BaaS space. Quite the opposite, the opinions presented here are based on our experience at Invector Labs evaluating and using these stacks in the context of real world blockchain solutions. As a result, some viewpoints can be considered highly subjective but at least they are not based on marketing materials 😉

In the previous part of this article, we presented a 10-factor criterion to evaluate the technical readiness of a BaaS stack. The list considers both basic and highly sophisticated technical capabilities that are proven to be relevant in real world blockchain scenarios. While the vast majority of permissioned blockchain solutions are based on either Hyperledger Fabric or Ethereum, those stacks along can fulfill the requirements of real world blockchain solutions. The capabilities outlines below could be a good baseline to evaluate the technical viability of a BaaS stack:

In addition to the aforementioned technical capabilities, there are a few complementary elements that will help you to evaluate the different BaaS platforms:

· Implementor Community: Most organizations implementing blockchain solutions require certain levels of professional services. A strong partner ecosystem can help streamline the adoption of a BaaS stack and it’s a strong indicator of its market relevance.

· Developer Community: Blockchain technologies are based on open source distributions and BaaS stacks are not the exceptions. A healthy developer community is a strong sign of the viability of a BaaS stack.

· Customers: The obvious one, most blockchain implementations today are constrained to the pilot phase. Even so, there is nothing like a strong customer ecosystem to evaluate the market readiness of a BaaS platform.

· Blockchain Innovation & Thought Leadership: Is a BaaS stack a mere cloud runtime for blockchain technologies or is it contributing unique innovations to the space? The blockchain infrastructure space is in very stages and is important that BaaS providers actively contribute the research and development of protocols that can improve permissioned blockchain solutions in a unique way.

When you examine the BaaS market, the level of activity, marketing press releases, funding rounds announcements can result overwhelming. However, if we use the previous criteria as guideline, there are a handful of vendors that have achieved both a technical and go-to-market early leadership position in the space.

Microsoft

In a very short term, Microsoft has been able to build, arguably, the most complete and diverse BaaS stack in the market. What I find refreshing about Microsoft’s BaaS offering is that it expands beyond the integration between Azure and blockchain technologies and has contributed unique innovations to the blockchain ecosystems such as the Coco Framework, the Proof-Of-Authority implementation for Ethereum or the Azure Workbench toolset.

· Strengths: A very heterogeneous blockchain stack with support for many technologies, unique contributions to the blockchain research and development space, integration with Azure services and a viable support for hybrid runtimes(cloud and on-premise).

· Weaknesses: The customer adoption of the Azure blockchain stack remains limited and the developer and partner communities are relatively small.

IBM

Arguably, IBM can be considered the most successful BaaS platform in the market. From the customer adoption standpoint, IBM has a significant lead over competitors and the company continue being bullish about their blockchain investments.

· Strengths: The IBM Blockchain Platform(IBP) powered by Bluemix is powering some of the best-known permissioned blockchain implementations in the market. Customer adoption and a strong professional services arm are certainly the hallmarks of the IBP offering. From the technical standpoint, IBP has interesting contributions to blockchains governance and security models.

· Weaknesses: IBP remains mostly limited to Hyperledger Fabric is the support for other blockchain platforms is almost non-existent. Even in Fabric’s scenarios, IBP has serious limitations in terms of integration with off-chain services or the lifecycle management toolset.

AWS

AWS is a recent entrant into the BaaS market. In a refreshing sign of honesty, the AWS leadership admitted that, until recently, they didn’t understand the scenarios for permissioned blockchains. However, now they seem to be very committed to the BaaS space and entered the market with a very unique offering.

· Strengths: The developer and startup communities have been some of the biggest differentiator of AWS services in the last decade and there is no reason to believe that it will be different with their BaaS stack. Additionally, AWS already signaled that is planning to bring unique innovations to blockchains and distributed ledgers such as the recently announced Quantum Ledger Database.

· Weaknesses: The AWS Managed Blockchain stack is constrained to Hyperledger Fabric and Ethereum. The integration with blockchain protocols or frameworks is very limited and so is the current management toolset. Additionally, the customer adoption of the AWS BaaS platform is in very early stages.

Kaleido

When comes to building blockchain solutions in the AWS platform, Kaleido remains our favorite platform. Although relatively new, Kaleido brings the technical sophistication of a team that has seen a large number of permissioned blockchain implementations. Just like Heroku democratized cloud development with oversimplified interfaces, Kaleido is following a similar path in the BaaS space.

· Strengths: Incredibly sophisticated technology stack which includes support for many blockchain protocols and frameworks. The support for non-obvious components of blockchain solutions such as wallets or block explorers was particularly refreshing.

· Weaknesses: Kaleido is a relatively new entrant to the BaaS space and, consequently, the customer adoption remains limited. Additionally, Kaleido is lacking a robust implementor ecosystem that can streamline the adoption of the platform in real world scenarios.

Oracle

Differently from other modern technology trends, Oracle has jumped aggressively and relatively early into the blockchain space. The Oracle BaaS platform has seen initial adoption across different industries and has a very compelling go-to-market strategy.

· Strengths: Customer adoption and a robust professional service ecosystem are some of the highlights of the Oracle BaaS stack. From the technical standpoint, the Oracle BaaS platform provides a relatively seamless integration with Oracle Cloud services as well as a compelling management toolset.

· Weaknesses: The Oracle BaaS stack has virtually no support for modern blockchain protocols and runtimes and remains a bit of a black-box offering. The developer experience remains incredibly basic and difficult to adopt in large development teams.

BlockApps

If the term maturity can be applied to blockchain technologies, BlockApps can be considered one of the most mature BaaS stacks in the market. The BlockApps STRATO platform can be adapted to different cloud runtimes and provides a very strong integration with modern infrastructure technologies.

· Strengths: A cloud agnostic model, integration with data storage and messaging technologies and robust management toolset are some of the most visible benefits of BlockApps STRATO

· Weaknesses: Despite its maturity, customer adoption of STRATO remains limited and the support for non-Ethereum blockchains is still a major limitation.

Putting it All Together

A quantitative comparison of BaaS runtimes is not only complex but it takes the risk of being unfair on several subjective aspects. Based on our experience and the experiences of our customers, I put together a very basic comparison ranking of the different BaaS runtimes. I am sure many people are going to disagree with it but hopefully you will find it consistent with the analysis provided in this article.

I hope you find this analysis compelling and, as always, your feedback is very welcomed.