Open-source enterprise software company Red Hat has a new blockchain-based approach it says will make subscription-as-a-service (SaaS) better.
Unlike software-as-a-service (the “other” SaaS), which is hosted by a service provider and delivered over the internet, subscription-as-a-service uses the subscriber’s hardware to provide hosting and licensing management.
Subscription-as-a-service is a technology that can support something called “anything-as-a-service” (XaaS) in which customers gain access to software, infrastructure, services or pretty much anything related to information technology. Although XaaS can be delivered over the internet, it sometimes follows the subscription-as-a-service model.
“There’s no question that blockchain is a very important component in any enterprise’s cloud strategy,” Perkins says.
Blockchain isn’t vital when providing authentication for providers of single services, but its utility becomes evident when multiple parties become involved.
“A single subscriber/services blockchain could support multiple content providers and multiple payment processors,” Russell Doty, a senior technical product manager at Red Hat, tells ThirtyK.
For example, a service provider might provide platform-, software-, and infrastructure-as-a-service from many content providers, all to the same client, as well as to many others.
Blockchain builds an audit trail that details which computer logged on to which services, when and the quantity of compute cycles that were used. More specifically, Doty says, “Blockchain offers a way for an XaaS provider to support subscriber accounts or resources; log start/stop times, duration, or other usage metrics in plain text, structured data, or encrypted formats; and link usage to digital signatures for identify confirmation.” Consequently, any quibbling over usage is minimized.
“It can be structured so everyone can see all the traffic but only understand the pieces for which they are responsible,” Doty adds.
How Blockchain Supports XaaS
In what may be the Red Hat patent application’s simplest example of tracking usage, a server, either physical or in the cloud, on a customer’s network executes a “instance.” Think of this as one person in a large company logging onto to a cloud-based desktop application.
Then an activation agent broadcasts the transaction to other servers on the network, asking for activation of the software instance. When a block-issuing server receives the transaction and agrees to activate the instance, it generates a block containing the activation transaction.
That block is broadcast back to the customer network and received by the server that initiated the request of the subscription-as-a-service instance, thus enabling the continued execution of the subscription-as-a-service software. “At the end of a billing period, the blockchain may be used to generate an invoice to the subscribing customer,” according to the application.
This has the potential to replace the tracking mechanism used by subscription-as-a-service applications that reside on the customer’s hardware. Currently, that model requires the subscriber to invest in an extensive (and expensive) infrastructure to manage and track access to the software. For example, according to the patent application, “Some subscription-as-a-service platforms may employ a web-based authentication application programming interface (API), which may require a large number of subscription servers to provide timely responses to subscription activation requests.”
BaaS Is One Likely Application
Red Hat isn’t commenting about when it plans to commercialize this new use of blockchain, but one likely application for Red Hat’s new technology will be (BaaS) itself. launched its BaaS offering in July, joining Baidu, Deloitte, HP, Huawei, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP and Tencent.
“Blockchain is perfect for running alongside a transactional database to prove the integrity of the data,” Scotty Perkins, senior vice president of product innovation at Quisitive, tells ThirtyK,referring to the database that tracks subscription usage.
He also sees blockchain as an feature. For example, he says, “Access events could be digitally signed by the user gaining access, adding a layer of nonrepudiation to the security log. Consequently, it’s impossible for the user to deny that it was, in fact, their credential used to access the system.”
“There’s no question that blockchain is a very important component in any enterprise’s cloud strategy,” Perkins says. “When done properly…it can help remove a lot of non-value-add costs.”