Intel: We Build Hardware for Blockchain

Pioneers of blockchain technologies were software developers. Now hardware giants get involved. Digital Asset Live Editor-in-Chief talks with Michael Reed, Intel VP Blockchain.

Q1: The programme Intel document on blockchain is called “Intel and Blockchain – Better Together”. Why? What’s in it for Intel?

A1: Intel routinely explores emerging technologies to ensure they run efficiently on Intel platforms. Intel’s work in the area of blockchain seeks to accelerate the adoption of the technology by building unique capabilities into Intel processor technologies that help to address privacy, security, and scalability challenges.

One such technology that plays a critical role in enabling the blockchain is Intel® Software Guard Extensions, which offers hardware-based memory encryption that isolates specific application code and data in memory.

Q2:Your website states that Intel Software Guard Extensions can help protect blockchain transactions and improve consensus efficiency. It also says that technologies like Intel Advanced Vector Extensions 512 and Intel AES New Instructions, that are built into Intel Xeon Scalable processors, may enhance efficiency of cryptographic hashing. How does it work? What is you competitive advantage in this area over other producers?

A2: Blockchain software developers are using Intel® Software Guard Extensions to help improve blockchain privacy, scalability, and security. Microsoft demonstrated an approach to improving scalability with Intel® SGX in their Confidential Consortium Blockchain Framework back in 2017.

Michael Reed, Intel VP Blockchain

A Microsoft demo video that introduces the confidential consortium blockchain framework and shows how Intel SGX technology improves scalability can be seen in the following YouTube video (the SGX portion starts at ~8:30).

Microsoft ran the Confidential Consortium Blockchain Framework consensus mechanism in Intel SGX to more rapidly commit Ethereum transactions accelerating transaction throughput from ~15 tps often experienced on public Ethereum to over 1600 tps in their Confidential Consorium Blockchain Framework implementation.

Q3: Intel is a member to the most notable blockchain consortia, Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, R3, you also collaborate with the Linux Foundation on Hyperledger. Will you describe Intel’s contributions and efforts in these three consortia? Why do you think cross-corporate cooperation is important for in the blockchain related industries?

A3: Intel works in select developer communities to help specify and develop solutions that will help address key challenges such as privacy, scalability, and security that may inhibit the adoption of blockchain technology. Examples of our work in this regard include the Trusted Computer Specification in Enterprise Ethereum Alliance.

EEA recently announced the 1.0 release of this specification which helps developers execute blockchain smart contracts off-chain utilizing Trusted Execution Environments like Intel SGX in order to help improve data privacy and transaction throughput. Intel helped author the Trusted Computer Spec and is helping to build an open source reference implementation for the spec.

Another example is Hyperledger Transact, which is a new open source initiative in the Linux Foundation’s Hyperledger blockchain project that intends to deliver a single transaction environment that can support multiple blockchain frameworks which promises a future where developers can build an application once and run it on any blockchain. Intel co-sponsored Hyperledger Transact with IBM.

Q4: I am especially interested in blockchains potential to streamline the existing supply chain. Intel is involved in IntraEdge. Can you elaborate on this development, and what it will mean to us, end consumers. How is it different from IBM Food Trust, Walmart and Carrefour blockchain apps?

A4: Blockchain technology is building momentum in the supply chain space. Intel is playing a role here as well. Last year Intel participated in a supply chain proof of concept in SAP’s blockchain consortium along with UPS and Flex. See the SAP blog for details.

In addition, Intel has been working in Hyperledger on an open source project called Hyperledger Grid which seeks to deliver supply chain data types, data models, and smart contract business logic for use by multiple supply chain implementations.

Q4: Another major blockchain related effort by Intel is your cooperation with T-Mobile. Will you explain what it will mean for mobile users, what new functionalities will we see in blockchain mobile phones?

A4: You will need to contact T-Mobile to discuss its work in this area.

Q5: How big is the blockchain department at Intel now? Do you plan to expand?

A5: Intel does not disclose this type of information.

Q6: There is a shortage, if not to say hunger, for blockchain developers everywhere? How does Intel solve the recruitment issue? What skills do you look for when you hire?

A5: Intel’s blockchain program seeks to contribute to the success of developers throughout the industry. To do so, we work to educate developers on Intel silicon features like Intel SGX that can help improve blockchain security, privacy, and scalability.

We also work to develop specifications and reference software to help those developers build their blockchain solutions. When we hire, we seek people with skills that can help us in these efforts. Those skills span from marketing communications, to software architecture specification development to low-level software programming.

Q6: How do you see the future of hardware built for blockchain?

A6: We are working with developers to help them utilize Intel platforms that can help improve today’s blockchain solutions, and while doing so, we are aligning Intel’s platform roadmap with future blockchain developer needs.