Not content with taking over New York City and Arlington, Va., Amazon is coming for “blockchain” as well, the company announced yesterday during its AWS re:Invest conference in Las Vegas. How might a tech behemoth that one year ago expressed no interest in the technology go about this? By A) not really using blockchain technology, and B) treating it the way Russia treats democracy.
Let’s get into A first, Amazon’s Quantum Ledger Database. From the buzzwords, Amazon QLDB sounds exactly like a blockchain product. According to Amazon Web Service’s product description, QLDB is “a database that provides a transparent, immutable, and cryptographically verifiable transaction log.” However, this log is “owned by a central trusted authority” (if we are reading the buzzwords correctly, this would mean the customer who is using QLDB).
Amazon frames QLDB as a solution for companies that want a ledger “with audit functionality” but don’t have the time and skill to set up a true blockchain ledger to accomplish this. With QLDB, companies don’t have to bother building their own databases, because Amazon can do it for them. Also, these databases are scalable—offering two to three times as many transactions as the “common blockchain” ledger—because they aren’t decentralized. Though users can technically delete items from their ledgers, those items will remain in the corresponding “immutable” journals, and cryptographic hash functions will offer “proof” of all changes. In other words, it has some of the benefits of blockchain, minus its pesky idealistic promise, and plus all the power and control of a centralized authority.
Amazon’s suggested uses for QLDB include human resources, finance, insurance, retail, and supply-chain management. Surely not all companies in those areas need decentralized ledgers to track what they do, and the tech giant’s new offering will suffice. Not everything needs to be blockchain—it just needs the suggestion of it to garner the hype.
Then there’s B, a “fully managed service that makes it easy to create and manage scalable blockchain networks using the popular open source frameworks Hyperledger Fabric and Ethereum” (only Hyperledger Fabric is operational with the service so far). This is called Amazon Managed Blockchain, a name that brings to mind Vladimir Putin’s “managed democracy.” In managed democracy, citizens vote in “free elections” that don’t result in any political change; Putin always wins. In a managed blockchain, users get to participate in blockchain networks but remain under Amazon’s very wide consumer umbrella; Amazon always wins. An inflammatory comparison, maybe—but consider that Jeff Bezos’s net worth is comparable to the Russian president’s purported wealth.
Based on its description, Amazon Managed Blockchain seems like an easy-to-use interface layer to help companies better navigate their own scalable blockchain networks. Users first have to create an AWS account before they can “launch blockchain peer nodes using the AWS Management Console,” which Amazon CloudWatch will track. Of course, users will soon be able to export all of their managed blockchain network data to Amazon QLDB, where they can analyze it offline. Imagine—all of your blockchain work accomplished without leaving the Amazon ecosystem.
Amazon’s overall premise is, essentially, “blockchain is hard.” Just like how shopping is hard, how hiring someone to clean your windows is hard, and how manually adjusting your thermostat is hard. Figuring out how to do things for yourself is complicated, so sit back, stuff some money in Bezos’s pocket, and let Amazon do it for you, blockchain now included.