For over a decade concepts like cloud computing, cloud storage and cloud applications have become deeply ingrained in the vocabulary of IT departments and the discourse of tech-savvy entrepreneurs and for good reason. Since it has permeated the market, the cloud has solidified itself as a vector of progress that has substantially increased business efficiency, granting adopters a significant competitive edge through its ability to ensure business continuity and increased performance without necessitating large upfront costs.

Modex – Azure integration: taking the blockchain to cloud 

To capitalize on the advantages and ease of deployment facilitated by cloud infrastructures, Modex has integrated its flagship product, the Blockchain Database (BCDB) trademark solution with Microsoft Azure, one of the most important cloud computing providers available on the market. 

Through this technological integration, Modex has transformed the BCDB solution into an easy to use Infrastructure as a Service offering through which Azure beneficiaries can seamlessly integrate a blockchain component into their applications to unlock a series of highly sought after characteristics such as data immutability, decentralization, data integrity and traceability. The year 2020 marked an important turning point for Modex, as it signals the beginning of its expansion in the cloud space as an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offering on the major public clouds for clients who wish to deploy a Modex BCDB infrastructure to create a hybrid infrastructure that fuses blockchain technology with the cloud.

It’s impossible to deny the fact that technology is present in every aspect of our lives, and the business sector is no exception. Unsurprisingly, a significant percentage of companies are not in the business of technology, but they rely on it to operate their businesses. Essential business sectors such as healthcare, financial service and retail operate on top of a technological infrastructure that supports the vastly intricate web of daily operations. 

Cloud providers challenged the established perception of technological infrastructures characterized by a monolithic view on tech resources by providing the building block necessary to construct an IT framework for businesses while also removing any maintenance friction points. Due to its extensive range of offerings and services, the cloud has proven to be a lucrative proposition for entrepreneurs in search of an agile deployment of a tech infrastructure for their businesses and applications as well as for developers who wish to build custom applications without needing to invest in expensive hardware.

Settling a modern debate: on premise or on cloud?

The advent of the digital twenty-first century marked the beginning of deep societal transformations that revolved around an exponential increase in data usage. As the amount of data generated keeps growing with each year, it is becoming increasingly difficult for individuals and organizations to store and manage all of their vital data and applications up and running on in-house systems.

 Given this dilemma, it’s unsurprising that cloud computing has spiked in popularity in recent years, as its enticing promise to unlock a wide range of opportunities such as saving time and costs to streamlined scalability and agility. Probably the most important characteristic of the cloud is its availability, meaning small to medium enterprises can easily access the services of a cloud provider to build their infrastructure or application just as easy as a large scale enterprise.

On the other hand, on-premise software is a tried and true approach that so far seems to have withstood the test of time, as many organizations and businesses still rely on their in-house infrastructure to fulfil their business needs. On-prem applications are reliable and secure and offer a greater degree of control over proprietary data. From this point of view, migrating to the cloud usually means a lower degree of control over data, as it will no longer reside on the company’s servers. Even so, there is consensus in the IT community that companies and organizations that rely on legacy and on-prem systems will be required to leverage emerging cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) in order to be adequately equipped to achieve business goals in the evolving market.

Regardless of the approach a company chooses, data security remains a paramount objective. Companies that operate in highly regulated industries may not have the option to choose a cloud infrastructure to house their applications. As such, companies that fall into this category are obligated to bear a number of financial costs generated by hardware expenses and software licenses among other things. Even so, the advantages are clear cut. Since the software is licensed and resides within the boundaries of a company’s premise, the general consensus is that the data is more secure in an environment in which the owner has full control. If information security is critical for every company that operates with large data volumes, the following question emerges, why is the cloud environment getting more and more traction?

The reason for the migration towards a cloud infrastructure is mainly due to the costs associated with managing and maintaining an application in an in-house environment. Compared to the high availability of the cloud, an on-prem infrastructure is exponentially more demanding from a cost perspective, both in the initial investment as well as in the long run due to the maintenance costs entailed. Without getting into too many details, the major downsides of on-premise environments can be split into two categories, hardware requirements and maintenance. From an equipment perspective, a proprietary infrastructure requires in-house hardware such as servers, software licenses, and various integration capabilities. 

This drastically affects the scalability potential of on-prem infrastructures, regardless if we are referring to vertical or horizontal scalability, as the cost of the equipment, as well as other administrative factors such as the space for housing said equipment and the electricity necessary for powering the hardware adds up to a considerable sum. Furthermore, as the owner of the hardware infrastructure, you are tasked with supporting any troubleshooting issues and any eventual equipment breakdowns. This leads to our second point, support and management of the hardware infrastructure. Owning a hardware infrastructure is one thing, but managing and maintaining it is another aspect that requires a dedicated in-house team of IT professionals for support and troubleshooting.

Cloud computing is an alternative to on-premise software that opens up a new venue of benefits and opportunities. Compared to an on-prem environment where everything is stored in-house, the cloud proposes a new model in which a third-party provider hosts a slew of technological resources ranging from storage and computing power, and grants access on a pay as you use model. This new paradigm brought by cloud providers enables companies to scale up or down, depending on the traffic of their platform, user requirements and overall usage. Businesses can easily access new resources to accurately reflect the growth of their company. Overall the cloud offers an ideal value proposition to companies that seek an aggressive expansion, enabling easy connectivity with clients, partners and other businesses, almost anywhere in the world with minimal effort. An essential feature of cloud computing is its nearly instant provisioning of new features, applications and services that can complement and augment existing software applications. New software can be easily integrated into existing environments, with the push of a button once a company has subscribed to the respective service. Instant provisioning drastically cuts down on implementation times, the configuration usually consisting of a couple of fields that need to be checked.

Modex BCDB, a solution available both on-prem and on cloud

As one of the early supporters of blockchain technology in the enterprise environment, Modex has been carefully analyzing the pulse of the market to decode a pattern of business-related needs that blockchain technology can address with its wide range of inherent benefits. The result of this extensive research gave birth to the Modex Blockchain Database (BCDB) solution that fuses the advantages of traditional database systems with a blockchain backend to create a new type of ecosystem that brings unprecedented levels of trust in data. What makes the BCDB software unique on the market is its ability to answer the data management needs of customers, irrespective if they rely on a cloud or an on-prem infrastructure.

Modex BCDB is a new take on blockchain technology which removes the need to invest resources in blockchain training, facilitating fast adoption of the technology in businesses. The solution proposed by Modex is a middleware that fuses a blockchain with a database to create a structure that is easy to use and understand by developers with no prior knowledge in blockchain development. As a result, any developer who knows how to work with a database system can operate the BCDB solution, without needing to change their programming style or learn blockchain.

Through its blockchain component Modex BCDB can transform with minimal changes any type of database into a decentralized database that holds the same valuable characteristics inherent to blockchain technology: transparency, increased security, data immutability, and integrity.

As an application, Modex BCDB intervenes in the development stack by positioning itself between the database and the existing application server. In a classical flow scheme, the front end application makes API calls to an application server which in turn makes calls to the database. Most often these interactions are represented by the standard CRUD operations performed in a database system. Modex BCDB is a hybrid solution that acts as a liaison between a client’s database and a blockchain network. After implementing our solution, insert commands still follow the paradigm of classic database systems, but each data entry passes through a hashing function that produces a unique hash that is stored into the blockchain to ensure data integrity and transform a centralized system into a decentralized one. In essence, a beneficiary maintains his data structure intact at the database level but gains access to all of the advantages of blockchain technology by storing their hash in a blockchain.

Traditionally, if someone tries to tamper with a company’s database, be it an external attacker, or someone from within the company who has clearance to access the database and wants to corrupt, hijack or ransom the data, they can pretty much do so at their leisure once they get in. But with a solution like Modex BCDB which stores the hash of the information on a blockchain, any changes will ultimately be obsolete. This is because hashing a string produces a unique hash digest that cannot be reversed to reveal the original input. If an attacker modifies an entry in the database, the hash of that data will also change, so when the system compares the new hash with the old one, it will reject any unauthorized changes, and recover the data from other nodes from the network. Besides the benefits that come with decentralization, the data can now be accessed much faster, regardless of geographical position, because through Modex BCDB the information is now physically decentralized across multiple nodes.

A brief introduction to cloud environments

Private clouds are a computing service that operates over the internet or a private internal network which is dedicated to a single end-user or a group of companies that operate as a consortium. Also known as an internal or corporate cloud, private cloud offers companies an extensive range of benefits, including scalability, elasticity and high levels of customization. Compared to public clouds, private clouds deliver higher levels of security and privacy facilitated by company firewalls and internal hosting. Data resides within a well-established perimeter and is not accessible to third party providers. A drawback of private clouds is the fact that it requires the same staffing, management, and maintenance expenses as traditional on-prem data centers. Overall, every type of cloud environment falls within the private typology once the underlying IT infrastructure is dedicated to a single customer (or group of customers that operate under the same banner) with completely isolated access.

Public clouds are a computing service offered by a third-party provider over the internet. In its most basic form, a public cloud is a pool of virtual resources made available by hardware owned and managed by a third party company, the cloud provider, that is provisioned and allocated among multiple clients. Public clouds are an ideal way to circumvent expensive costs generated by purchasing, managing and maintaining on-premise hardware and application infrastructures. The sole responsibility for the management of hardware components rests with the cloud provider. Compared to traditional on-prem infrastructures, public clouds can be deployed considerably faster, holding an almost infinitely scalability potential. An accurate representation for a public cloud is a huge office building that hosts multiple companies that benefit from the services provided by the lessor. Over the years, a number of data security and privacy concerns have been raised over public cloud environments, but if implemented correctly, public clouds represent an ideal way to stimulate business and gain a competitive advantage. At the moment of writing, the Modex BCDB solution is available as an Infrastructure as a Service offering on Microsoft Azure, one of the leading cloud providers available on the market.

Multi-cloud environments is a technology infrastructure that leverages two or more cloud computing platforms from separate providers. A multi-cloud environment can be any blend of public and/or private cloud services that offer better control over sensitive data. For example, a cloud beneficiary can contract the services of a different provider to create an improved disaster recovery system. Multi-cloud environments are slowly getting traction across enterprises that are searching to boost security and performance.

Hybrid cloud is a computing environment that leverages the benefits of an on-prem data center with a public cloud. A system becomes a hybrid cloud when applications can move in and out of multiple separate but connected environments.

The concept of cloud services

The concept of cloud services encompasses software, platforms and infrastructures that are hosted and made available by cloud providers over the internet. Currently, there are three main types of  cloud services: Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).

Software as a Service is a software licensing and delivery model in which a software solution can be accessed based on a subscription basis. Often referred to as “on-demand software”, SaaS is a form of cloud computing that allows users to connect to and utilize cloud-based applications over the internet. Operating under a pay as you use model, SaaS offerings are an ideal solution for large scale enterprises as well as SMEs that can be accessed over the internet, with a web browser. A major advantage of the SaaS model is that it reduces users’ upfront cost by mitigating the need to purchase the software as well as a powerful on-prem infrastructure capable of running it, because all of the underlying infrastructure, middleware, software and application data are located on the service provider’s centre. However, users need to keep in mind that the performance of SaaS services is dictated by internet connection speeds, as such fast network hardware is mandatory.

Platform as a Service is a cloud computing model in which access to hardware resources and an application software platform is granted by a third-party vendor on a subscription basis. PaaS offerings primarily target developers and programmers, enabling them to create, run and manage their own applications without needing to worry about building and maintaining a complex hardware infrastructure. All of the elements necessary for developing and maintaining a software application such as hardware installation, server maintenance, infrastructure updates are all covered by the cloud provider, leaving developers ample time to focus on their code and new features for their application.

Infrastructure as a Service is a cloud service offering that grants access to a fully provisioned, on-demand computing infrastructure that can be managed over the internet. It grants companies access to all the benefits of on-prem computing resources without needing to worry about all the overhead involved with deploying, maintaining and operating an in-house infrastructure. As one of the most flexible cloud services, IaaS promotes easy scalability and resource management. IaaS beneficiaries have full control of the infrastructure via an API or dashboard. The higher degree of control means that users need to manage multiple aspects such as the operating system, applications, data, middlewares and runtime environments. Meanwhile, the cloud provider manages the servers, the virtualization, storage and network.

Bringing blockchain to the cloud

The rapid expansion of cloud computing and IaaS services over the past decade has provided an answer to many issues that revolve around building and maintaining a costly on-prem infrastructure. To remove the financial barrier and to streamline the overall deployment process, Modex has integrated its BCDB solution with the most popular public cloud infrastructure, Microsoft Azure, as a plug and play solution on their marketplace, which makes data integrity and immutability readily available, without requiring companies and businesses to support all the costs associated with an on-prem infrastructure.

Azure subscribers are now able to access and deploy with the push of a button a blockchain database infrastructure that enhances data security and data management operations. Modex enables companies to customize and deploy from a wizard interface the network infrastructure in a matter of minutes, compared to the weeks and even months required for deployment by other solutions present on the market. Once a client configures the network according to the business logic of their company, Modex begins to set up the infrastructure and virtual machines according to the network configurations chosen by the client. Keep in mind that Modex does not provide the hardware infrastructure, the cloud provider is the entity that provides the necessary computational resources. Modex will coordinate the client’s configuration settings while also providing the blockchain and database technological layer.

The Blockchain Database product is published as a solution template on the Azure Marketplace. A solution template is a powerful tool that helps Azure subscribers set up multiple services and infrastructures connected by networks while also acting as a mechanism through which beneficiaries can install and configure a collection of machines. In short, it’s a more complex solution that helps Azure subscribers quickly deploy multiple services. The main benefit of a solution template stems from its ability to significantly reduce deployment time by relying on automation and scripting. Another important benefit stems from its ability to remove or hide complexities through an abstraction layer that significantly simplifies the interaction with the deployment process.

Through the Modex BCDB solution template, Azure subscribers are just a few clicks away from setting up and configuring their own Modex BCDB infrastructure. Once a set of minimal information has been passed in the installation interface, and the deploy button is hit, the Azure platform takes over all the heavy lifting and allocates all the hardware required for the backend processes. After the automated setup process concludes, the beneficiaries have a fully deployed BCDB infrastructure and workbench at their disposal that can be used to add a blockchain backend to their applications.