Bitcoin has been a fickle fiend of late. Having risen in value to the dizzying heights of $19,500, the currency came crashing down to earth shortly before Christmas. Many predicted that the crash was the end of the bitcoin bubble, but as of April 2018 the currency had recovered to an extent, edging over $9,000 for the first time since the crash.
These fluctuations in value caused no end of problems for the cryptocurrency trading platforms trying to cope with surges in web traffic. At the bitcoin peak, two of the biggest cryptocurrency exchanges buckled under the volume of traffic, making it impossible to buy or sell digital currency.
One of these platforms, Coinbase, reported that it saw “all-time-high” web traffic which contributed to the system outage. However, this wasn’t the first time it had experienced problems. Prior to that, Coinbase crashed after an Asian buying frenzy, with Japanese investors rushing in to snap up cryptocurrency after it was made legal tender. Coinbase adopted an honesty first approach, with CEO Brian Armstrong saying that the company is expecting more outages in the future during periods of high-volume traffic.
Is Blockchain making things difficult?
Poor performance isn’t something that modern businesses and consumers will just put up with, so these issues need to be brought under control. So, what’s making it difficult for the bitcoin exchanges? Bitcoin is an early adopter of blockchain, which is a constantly growing list of records called blocks, connected and secured with cryptography. These records provide a verifiable means of recording transactions.
As blockchain becomes more widespread, the onus on how blockchain behaves and performs will fall on teams integrating blockchain into their technology stacks. However, blockchain use in web and cloud applications will happen in very complex IT environments, which will almost certainly include elastically scaling compute resources that exist only temporarily. Not only that, but these blockchains will be processing thousands of transactions every minute; the sheer scale of which will create monitoring challenges even for the most advanced IT organisations. This explosion in transactions and complexity will require an entirely new monitoring approach.
Monitor and track to understand the chain
Monitoring blockchains requires visibility into the entire technology stack and every digital transaction that is processed through it. You can’t skip requests or sample/throttle data when monitoring blockchains; blindly trusting that the application, services, process, network or infrastructure layers are always providing 100% availability and optimal performance.
However, IT teams will also need to make sense of the insights generated through their monitoring processes. This is where deterministic artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities will be essential. By using tailored machine learning algorithms, organisations can auto-discover and auto-baseline 100% of traffic, from the end user to the application to the blockchain and to their IT infrastructure. This AI generated map will provide a complete understanding of all the entities, relationships and dependencies involved in the operation of a blockchain based application, helping IT teams to determine the impact of performance related events and what caused them.
However, understanding is only part of the puzzle. The next step is to use machine learning algorithms to baseline, compare time frames and create multi-dimensional views of data to then determine and rank issues that inevitably occur in the complex environments where blockchain resides. As a result, businesses can build self-healing into their blockchain applications. For example, if a blockchain application is having a memory-based issue, a deterministic AI (machine learning) could detect this state and trigger a fix to adjust the memory setting automatically, maintaining the application’s ability to process blocks.
Blockchain has wider applications
Monitoring blockchain performance will be key if businesses are to avoid the type of outages we saw with the bitcoin exchanges. But it’s not just the value of bitcoin that can be affected by outages; blockchain has other applications outside of the finance world that could be impacted.
For example, in the supply chain, blockchain applications track goods as they move and change hands in the supply chain, better organising tracking data and putting it to use. Walmart is currently working with IBM to use blockchain technology to track goods across every step of the supply chain – getting fresh food to customers quicker and providing complete traceability. But an outage here could mean losing track of stock, or goods not being in the right place at the right time, slowing delivery to consumers and creating a negative impact on their experience.
As the use of blockchain technology becomes more widespread, it’s going to become too important not to monitor it. Whilst it might feel like another brick in the wall of IT complexity, with proper management, blockchain can fit seamlessly into the digital ecosystem and provide value, instead of headaches for IT teams.