What is a Block Chain and What You need to Know About it

We heard the term “block chain” for the first time at the 2016 RealComm/ IBcon show. Many believe the block chains could be the most disruptive technologies yet, some compare it’s impact to the fall of the Berlin Wall. As systems integrators and smart buildings professionals we need to be aware of it’s existence and how it will effect our industry.

What is a ‘Blockchain’

BlockChain is a technology that was created to be a public ledger of all Bitcoin transactions that have ever been executed. Think of it as one big checking account that everyone uses as a way to transfer information. In the case of bitcoin and agreed upon currency. It is constantly growing as ‘completed’ blocks are added to it with a new set of recordings. “The blocks are added to the blockchain in a linear, chronological order. Each node (computer connected to the Bitcoin network using a client that performs the task of validating and relaying transactions) gets a copy of the blockchain, which gets downloaded automatically upon joining the Bitcoin network. The blockchain has complete information about the addresses and their balances right from the genesis block to the most recently completed block.”
A block stands as proof of all the transactions on the network. A block is the ‘current’ part of a blockchain which records some or all of the recent transactions, and once completed goes into the blockchain as permanent database. Each time a block gets completed, a new block is generated. There is a countless number of such blocks in the blockchain. So are the blocks randomly placed in a blockchain? No, they are linked to each other (like a chain) in proper linear, chronological order with every block containing a hash of the previous block.

The commercial real estate folks were a buzz about how they could use this technology for all kinds of things including lease payments. I can only wonder how long it will take for block chains to filter down to systems integrators and the smart building control system?


3 Responses

  1. Eric, I think that block chains represent a very interesting opportunity in the area of building analytics: imagine how it might be used as a troubleshooting tool to determine the sequence of events leading up to a problem with a particular system in a building. Seemingly unrelated changes in the building would be more closely related due to their temporal relationship.

  2. A technical correction…Blockchain was not created to track Bitcoin. Blockchain is a set of techniques for creating a secure distributed database using hashing and consensus. Bitcoin uses a computationally intensive implementation of blockchain. Ethereum (as soon in the Brooklyn Microgrid project and by the company Grid Singularity) is another blockchain implementation. There are others.
    Although folks focus on the Coin (who doesn’t like money?) other aspects of blockchain such as creating and managing an identity (for your IOT thing) and creating and tracking contracts (between your IOT things) might be more important.
    When you get down to small things, though, blockchain is to expensive. You won’t want to pay a 10 cent fee on a half cent power, data, or water transaction. Less expensive cryptocurrencies based on computational systems like Tangle might be more usefull within a building.
    Eventually, the transactive interfaces for “things” will be open source, then reduced to microcode for particular contexts, then in ASICS for wide, inexpensive deployment

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