Blockchain the Technology

Basically, Blockchain is a transaction based ledger system where the transactions are recorded and replicated in real time across a network via a consensus mechanism, thus forming a sequence of time-stamped blocks we know as Blockchain.

Once something is added to a block, it cannot be undone.  Therefore, any changes to said item is basically an addendum to the block making the blockchain a very secure model which is why its appealing to the finance industry.

That said, while this fundamental design is what makes blockchain so secure, it also makes it challenging to scale the technology.  Today, the best performing numbers we have seen for a blockchain is 3,800 tps with the average write time of a private block is approximately 10 seconds.  A public blockchain can take minutes to validate and write too (Bitcoin takes 13 minutes).   Over time, this will get better.

Opportunities with Blockchain

There are many areas where Sabre can take advantage of blockchain in an asynchronies fashion.  Sabre evaluated several use cases for blockchain and has selected a few to visit.  These include replacing ticketing documentation with blockchain, using blockchain to support contracts between airlines and agencies, and perhaps building a Loyalty solution where the crypto currency are the miles.

Sabre’s first prototype was more an exercise of understanding rather than an investigation for a product.  Thus, the first prototype was to solve interline proration between validating and interlining carriers.  This model is an excellent exercise to understand the benefits and limitations of blockchain because it is a ledger which can manage and track the financials associated with a ticket, will utilize smart contracts to manage proration; and finally, can store banking information via the digital wallet.

What we Learned

Because this is an exercise to understand how blockchain can be used, the intent was not to productize but rather to evaluate the usefulness of blockchain.  The exercise evaluated the performance of blockchain, the added value associated with smart contracts, the complexities associated with a blockchain, and the differences between public and private chains.

From a performance perspective, Blockchain is not fast enough for Sabre to place it in a real-time work flow.  The transaction per second and response time don’t meet Sabre’s needs.  Today, just one service at Sabre can hit 22,000 transactions per second which far exceeds current capabilities of blockchain.  In addition, the response times associated with blockchain does not meet Sabre’s standards.

Smart contracts work well and are very flexible in its application.  We used it for both a viewership perspective and the applied proration model between two airlines.  This coupled with the fact that the data is immutable makes it perfect for multiple party solutions.

Sabre built their own blockchain just to understand the complexities associated with it.  The base blockchain solution was easily developed and we used a Couchbase solution that was a mirror of the blockchain to enhance the performance of the reads.  Lastly, if a company wants to remove themselves from being a mediator, the move to a public chain makes more sense, otherwise, a private blockchain works well.

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