Ethereum explained: An emerging blockchain based application platform used by tech giants

Blockchain is a disruptive technology, and considered the biggest technological innovation since the internet itself.

Bitcoin is a virtual currency that allows for international, anonymous transactions without a central authority. The verification of the transactions is enforced through the Blockchain, which is a immutable public record of all the transactions. Blockchain has become synonymous with distributed ledger technologies, and not just the specific implementation that supports bitcoin transactions.

Blockchain is a disruptive technology, and considered the biggest technological innovation since the internet itself. Wipro, Infosys, Microsoft and IBM all offer blockchain based solutions for a wide variety of purposes. Ethereum is a publicly deployed blockchain based platform with support for smart contracts. Instead of a blockchain being used for just cryptocurrency transactions, think of it as a blockchain for running any kind of application.

What is Ethereum?

Ethereum is a blockchain based application platform, that allows the applications to run from decentralised nodes instead of a central server. Anyone can set up a node, and be compensated for the computational power they provide to the blockchain. The decentralised architecture means that the applications running on the blockchain can not be tampered with, cannot be blocked, and there is no possibility of a downtime.

Ethereum is maintained by a Swiss non profit organization known as the Ethereum Foundation. The protocols and the functionality of the platform is has a regular update schedule, called milestones. The first two milestones were called "Olympic" and "Frontier". The current milestone is known as "Homestead". There are two future milestones planned, known as "Metropolis" and "Serenity". Ethereum can host cryptocurrencies, auctions, secure applications, virtual organisations, and even a virtual country with a constitution enforced by the blockchain, that cannot be violated.

What kind of applications run on Ethereum?

There are a number of distributed applications being developed on the Ethereum platform.

Storj is a cloud storage service, Voise is a music platform to allow independent artists to monetise their content, and Livepeer is a cheap and scaleable live video streaming solution. Project groundhog is a distributed, open source social network hosted on the Ethereum platform. E-commerce platforms, poker games, entertainment studios, ewallets, crowdsourced encyclopedias… essentially kind of regular application or service can be hosted on a distributed blockchain using Ethereum. These are called DAPPS, for distributed apps, and many of these are catalogued by Ethercasts, which is not related to the Ethereum project.

Who uses Ethereum? 

As Ethereum is the only public blockchain implementation currently with support for distributed applications, there are a number of companies using it. Companies around the world have come together under the banner of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, and make Ethereum more robust, safe, secure and appropriate for deploying enterprise solutions. The alliance intends to develop free, open source, and standardised blockchain solutions for enterprises.

Members of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance include Microsoft, Intel, Wipro, Infosys, Toyota, Samsung, Accenture, JP Morgan and ING.

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