7 April, 2017

Time for data technologists to shape blockchain development

IBM Researcher Dr. Chandrasekaran Mohan was the April speaker for the Big Data Institute (BDI) seminar series, presenting on “Permissioned Blockchains and Databases” on April 7.

In the last few years, blockchain (distributed ledger), the underlying technology of Bitcoin, has become very popular for use in commercial or permissioned environments. Computer companies like IBM and Microsoft, and many key players in different vertical industry segments have recognized the applicability of blockchains in environments other than cryptocurrencies. IBM did some pioneering work by architecting and implementing Fabric, and then open sourcing it. Now Fabric is being enhanced via the Hyperledger Consortium as part of the Linux Foundation. Other efforts include Enterprise Ethereum, R3 Corda and BigchainDB.

While there is no standard in the blockchain space currently, all the ongoing efforts involve some combination of database, transaction, encryption, consensus and other distributed systems technologies. Some of the application areas in which blockchain pilots are being carried out are: smart contracts, supply chain management, know your customer, derivatives processing and provenance management. In this talk, Dr. Mohan surveyed some of the ongoing blockchain projects with respect to their architectures in general and their approaches to some specific technical areas. In particular, his focus was on how the functionality of traditional and modern data stores are being utilized or not utilized in the different blockchain projects.

Given the attention that the world is paying to blockchain technologies, he believed it is important for the database community to become more aware of the underlying technologies and related developments in this area. Then, database technologists could try to influence the approaches taken and, in particular, how database technologies could be better utilized or enhanced to suit the requirements of blockchains. Since most of the blockchain efforts are still in a nascent state, the time is right for database researchers and practitioners to get more deeply involved.

Dr. C. Mohan joined IBM Almaden Research Center (San Jose, California) in 1981 where he worked until May 2006 on a number of topics in the areas of database, workflow and transaction management. From June 2006 he worked as the IBM India Chief Scientist, based in Bangalore, with responsibilities that relate to serving as the executive technical leader of IBM India within and outside IBM. In February 2009, at the end of his India assignment, Mohan resumed his research activities at IBM Almaden. Mohan is the primary inventor of the ARIES family of database recovery and concurrency control methods, and the industry-standard Presumed Abort commit protocol.

He was named an IBM Fellow, IBM's highest technical position, in 1997 for being recognized worldwide as a leading innovator in transaction management. In 2009, he was elected to the US National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and the Indian National Academy of Engineering (INAE). He received the 1996 ACM SIGMOD Innovations Award in recognition of his innovative contributions to the development and use of database systems. In 2002, he was named an ACM Fellow and an IEEE Fellow. At the 1999 International Conference on Very Large Data Bases, he was honored with the 10 Year Best Paper Award for the widespread commercial, academic and research impact of his ARIES work which has been extensively covered in textbooks and university courses.

From IBM, he has received 2 Corporate and 8 Outstanding Innovation/Technical Achievement Awards. He is an inventor on 47 patents and was named an IBM Master Inventor in 1997. Dr. Mohan works very closely with numerous IBM product and research groups, and his research results are implemented in numerous IBM and non-IBM prototypes and products like DB2, MQSeries, WebSphere, Informix, Cloudscape, Lotus Notes, Microsoft SQLServer and System Z Parallel Sysplex. He is currently focused on Big Data, HTAP and Blockchain technologies. In August 2016, he was named a Distinguished Visiting Professor of China’s prestigious Tsinghua University. He has been on the advisory board of IEEE Spectrum and has been an editor of VLDB Journal, and Distributed and Parallel Databases.

He is currently a member of the Academy Leadership Team of the IBM Academy of Technology. In the past, he has been a member of IBM's Research Management Council (RMC), IBM's Technical Leadership Team (TLT), IBM India's Senior Leadership Team, the Bharti Technical Advisory Council, the Academic Senate of the International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) in Bangalore and the Steering Council of IBM's Software Group Architecture Board.

Dr. Mohan received his PhD in computer science from the University of Texas at Austin in 1981. In 2003, he was named a Distinguished Alumnus of IIT Madras from which he received a B.Tech. in chemical engineering in 1977.

He is a frequent speaker in North America, Europe and India, and has given talks in 40 countries. He is very active on social media and has a huge following. More information could be found in the Wikipedia page at