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Public blockchains are also expensive, and not just in terms of money. The time and energy required to process transactions on public chains is more intensive than that of non-public chains. This is because every single node on the chain must authorize each new transaction before it is added to the chain, which requires a large amount of electricity and time (not to mention money).
Blockchains that are private or permissioned work similarly to public blockchains but with access controls that restrict those that can join the network, meaning it operates like a centralised database system of today that limits access to certain users. Private Blockchains have one or multiple entities that control the network, leading to the reliance on third-parties to transact. A well-known example would be Hyperledger.
This is what, at its core, state channels are. Imagine we wanted to play a game of Starcraft and have a smart contract that pays 1 ETH to the winner. It would be ridiculous for each participant to have to write on the main Ethereum network each time a Zergling was killed by a Zealot, or when a Command Center was upgraded to an Orbital Command. The gas cost (Ethereum gas, not Starcraft gas) and time for each transaction would be prohibitive.

The ShipChain platform unifies shipment tracking on the Ethereum blockchain, using a sidechain to track individual encrypted geographic waypoints across each smart contract. With this system, the meaning of each cryptographic waypoint is only accessible for interpretation by the parties involved in the shipment itself. This gives shippers more visibility across their supply chain, and allows carriers to communicate with ease.
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What if we could run heavy computations in a more centralized fashion, say on a single server, and then periodically integrate the results onto the main blockchain for posterity. We temporarily expose some vulnerability while the parallel server runs the heavy computation, but we get a massive benefit in that we don’t have to run the computation on chain, and simply need to store the results for future verification. This is the general premise behind Truebit. We won’t get into all the details of Truebit but there is a concept of challengers, who check to see the computations that were made have high fidelity.
Setting up an environment to test and research blockchain requires an ecosystem with multiple systems to be able to develop research and test. The big players in the cloud industry like Amazon(AWS), Microsoft(Azure), IBM(BlueMix) have seen the potential benefits of offering blockchain services in the cloud and started providing some level of BaaS to their customers. Users will benefit from not having to face the problem of configuring and setting up a working blockchain. Hardware investments won’t be needed as well. Microsoft has partnered with ConsenSys to offer Ethereum Blockchain as a Service (EBaaS) on Microsoft Azure. IBM(BueMix) has partnered with Hyperledger to offer BaaS to its customers. Amazon announced they would be offering the service in collaboration with the Digital Currency Group. Developers will have a single-click cloud-based blockchain developer environment, that will allow for rapid development of smart contracts.
@quinn – thanks for the comment. I probably didn’t write clearly enough… I was trying to point out that none of the higher-level concepts we’re familiar with (addresses, bitcoins, the “ledger”, etc) actually exist at the protocol level…. it’s just transactions, transaction outputs, unspent transaction outputs, etc… they combine to create the illusion we’re all familiar with.
A blockchain is so-called “public” (or open) when anyone can become a member of the network without conditions of admission. In other words, anyone wishing to use the service proposed by the network can download the protocol locally without having to reveal his or her identity or meet predetermined criteria. A protocol is a computer program that could be compared to a Charter in that it defines the rules of operation of a network based on a blockchain. For example, the members of the bitcoin network download the Bitcoin protocol (through the intermediary of their “wallet”) to be able to join the network and exchange bitcoins, but the only condition is to have an Internet connection.
The immense promise and accelerated development of permissioned blockchain technology, combined with intense business interest from a wide range of industries, is acting as a perfect stimulant for more and more enterprises to start rolling out blockchain networks into production. I envision these permissioned networks will soon directly or indirectly influence every facet of human enterprise.
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