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Amazon QLDB: Centralized Blockchain Monitored by an Authority You Trust (Kinda)

Welcome to the third and final piece in our discussion of blockchain for enterprise. So far, we've addressed the basics of blockchain and some ways your business might benefit from it.
centralized blockchain

We've also explored the soft spots, like risks of cyberattacks and "51% attacks" specifically. We have discussed a few platforms that might be a good fit for your organization and their differences, like speed, cost, and access to a knowledgeable developer community. And our last piece ended with a discussion of blockchain and the environment. Today, we'll introduce you to Amazon's Quantum Ledger Database (QLDB).

 It's another ledger-like technology that could become a powerful tool for a global enterprise. We'll give you a high-level overview of QLDB's capabilities and costs and compare it to Hyperledger — a hugely popular blockchain platform for enterprise. 

Finally, we'll leave you with a few thoughts about Amazon itself, Bezos's space dreams, and the reality of doing business with a monster like Amazon. 

What Is Amazon QLDB?

Amazon says QLDB is a fully managed ledger database that provides a transparent, unchanging, and cryptographically verifiable transaction log ‎owned by a central trusted authority. It could be used to track every application data change while maintaining a complete and verifiable history of changes. 

We've already discussed ledger technology in this series. Let's remember the concept of blockchain is built on the notion of a transparent ledger that is shared and verified by many "nodes" (computers). Once an entry is confirmed to be correct, it is added to the historical chain of transactions. 

At first glance, we like Amazon QLDB because:

  • We're familiar with Amazon, and most of your business partners will be familiar with it, too. That familiarity creates a sense of comfort and trust.
  • It also means you'll have access to a growing developer population, and applications you're beginning to imagine may already be available. 
  • QLDB is centralized and managed. The "authority" already exists.
  • Historically, Amazon's customer service skills are better than average. You'll have access to more support with Amazon than with other blockchain platforms.
  • And finally, at the time of writing, Amazon is worth $1.7 trillion. So there's a good chance your business would be compensated after a costly mishap. 

But Amazon (Bezos) has a plan. So any business you do with Amazon will have political and cultural sway, which is fine if your ideals align with theirs. Also, let's not forget, Amazon has a history of knocking off great products and services and allowing counterfeit products on their marketplace. The question becomes: Do you really want Amazon to have central access to your books?

But let's get back to the QLDB blockchain platform, and compare it to other platforms we've discussed.

About QLDB

Like other blockchain platforms for enterprise, ledger-like functionality is excellent for maintaining a history of data.

Amazon's QLDB could be used to:

  • Track banking transactions and cryptocurrency 
  • Track custody chains of hazardous materials “from the cradle to the grave
  • Provide transparent records of energy credit trades
  • Maintain accurate and thorough claims information for the insurance industry

And we can imagine the IRS using it, too. 

Now, blockchain frameworks can make excellent ledgers. But, as Amazon explains, other platforms are more complicated to use because you need to set up an entire blockchain network with multiple nodes, manage the infrastructure, and require the nodes to validate each transaction before it's added to the chain of information. 

The Benefits of Amazon's QLDB

According to Amazon, with QLDB, your data's change history is immutable — it’s unchangeable, it’s unalterable, and someone cannot delete it.

  • QLDB uses an immutable transactional log, called a journal, to track each application data change.
  • It also maintains a whole and verifiable history of changes.
  • QLDB is easy to use because many developers are already familiar with SQL-like API, a flexible document data model.
  • Amazon also claims to offer full support for transactions.
  • It's fast! QLDB's streaming capability provides a near real-time data flow.
  • QLDB is also server-less (on your end). That means your organization doesn't need to worry about ongoing energy costs associated with servers and climate control.
  • Amazon claims it easily scales and can handle two or three times more transactions than other platforms. 
  • It appears to be affordable. Amazon says, "With QLDB, you only pay for what you use."

So, how does QLDB compare to other platforms? Let's explore. 

QLDB vs. Hyperledger

Here, we'll compare Hyperledger with QLDB. But we recognize these are different technologies aiming at different audiences. 

What Is Hyperledger?

Hyperledger is an open-source umbrella blockchain project hosted by the Linux Foundation, a non-profit organization. It's wildly popular among enterprises. It consists of distributed ledgers, libraries, tools, and domain-specific projects. The goal is to provide organizations with the means to adopt blockchain for business and implement it. One of the famous Hyperledger projects is Hyperledger Fabric. Hyperledger Sawtooth is another rising star. 

  • Comparing Hyperledger with QLDB, you'll quickly see the Hyperledger project is open-source. They take a community approach to building business adoption of blockchain. 
  • Amazon's QLDB takes a closed-source approach. That's not necessarily bad or wrong. It is how Amazon wants its product.

Remember, Amazon is a massive organization with many partners and affiliates. It is capable of providing top-notch development and cutting-edge technology to users. 

QLDB Is Easier to Use

QLDB offers much better ease of use. It provides familiar database capabilities and an SQL-compatible query language that supports structures and data types for developers. Moreover, QLDB supports the document-oriented data model. It enables a flexible way to store and access data. For an enterprise, that means easy storage of both structured and semi-structured data. Finally, QLDB is ACID-compliant.

But you don't need to be a programmer to work with QLDB. Any computer-savvy employee can enter data and learn to view the ledger and sort information. If you can handle Microsoft XL or Quickbooks, you can handle QLDB. 

Hyperledger doesn't offer the same level of ease of use. You'll need a tech team (or at least a dedicated employee) to use Hyperledger. And that's a vital issue for smaller organizations.

QLDB is easier to set up, too. Again, Amazon has a reputation for decent customer support, should things go awry. 

Hyperledger Is Cheaper

Amazon QLDB is a paid service. We like that it's set up for businesses to "pay as you use," and as of August 2021, there are no minimum fees. Online sources suggest that a bookkeeping application for a medium-sized business should cost somewhere between $50 and $100 monthly. So it's affordable when compared to high-end bookkeeping software. 

It's also worth noting that data transfer is free with QLDB right now. We don't know if that will change as the platform grows or attracts some huge users. 

Hyperledger, on the other hand, is free — beyond the payroll of dedicated staff with the knowledge to run it. 

Now that we've covered costs and interoperability, let's think about doing business with the Amazon monster.

Don't Forget That Jeff Bezos Has an Agenda (He Wants to Explore Space, and We're Cool With That)

Earth from space at night

Jeff Bezos went to space (kind of) on July 20, 2021, aboard a rocket crafted by New Origin — also a Bezos company. Per the Associated Press, he said it was the "best day ever!"

And we believe him!

But his adventure cost him some social goodwill. While this author chalks it up to penis-rocket envy, there was considerable outcry on social media that these funds should have been spent feeding children, saving refugees, or developing cleaner technology. And while Amazon pitches its dedication to sustainability, it looks awfully hypocritical that the founder used fossil fuels to blast into orbit. 

Doing Business With Bezos and Amazon

Jeff Bezos tends to donate equally to Republican, Democrat, and Independent politicians. But his organization — and its affiliates like Amazon Web Studios and Amazon Pay — support the American Democratic Party heartily, if not always exclusively. This may or may not affect your decision to support an Amazon product. Either way — we won't judge. 

But here are more fun facts about Bezos and Amazon that are worth considering before jumping in bed with QLDB:

  • Bezos controls nearly 40% of all e-commerce in the US. Retailers are constantly competing with themselves when selling on Amazon.
  • Amazon has a reputation for allowing knock-offs of popular products on its eCommerce platform. But it has taken steps to address the problem.
  • In 2020 Amazon "seized and destroyed" more than two million potentially counterfeit items. 
  • Americans perform more product searches on Amazon than on Google.
  • Amazon operates a B2C, B2B, and D2C (direct to consumer) advertising business worth more than IBM's entire organization. 
  • Amazon Web Services may control nearly 50% of the cloud-computing industry — both General Electric (GE) and the CIA rely on Amazon's servers.
  • It also controls media and publications. This includes 42% percent of paper book sales and about 33% of US streaming video.

So it's easy to see why The Atlantic magazine calls Bezos the most powerful man in American culture. Make no mistake — we admire him! But remember, just like the Carnegies and Rockefellers, Amazon loves to knee-sweep their competition. 

Related Reading & Resources:

101blockchains.com: QLDB vs Hyperledger: Key Differences