Is blockchain -- the distributed database behind cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin -- ready for prime time? IBM clearly thinks so. This week, the company announced new Blockchain-as-a-Service offerings in the cloud, a move that follows its recent contribution of 44,000 lines of open source code to the Hyperledger project.

Blockchain is a type of distributed database. It's designed in a way that ensures that all transactions are public, yet no centralized party has exclusive control over them. The technology has become explosively popular because it powers Bitcoin, the open source, peer-to-peer payment system -- although it can be used for much more than that.

IBM's new cloud-based blockchain offering is available from its Bluemix cloud. It's designed to help DevOps teams build applications that use blockchain technology. Those applications can also be deployed directly on IBM z Systems servers, the company says.

IBM is also promoting integration of blockchain apps with IoT devices for purposes that extend beyond payment. "Devices will be able to communicate to blockchain-based ledgers to update or validate smart contracts," IBM says. "For example, as an IoT-connected package moves along multiple distribution points, the package location and temperature information could be updated on a blockchain. This allows all parties to share information and status of the package as it moves among multiple parties to ensure the terms of a contract are met."

Late last year, IBM became a founding member of Hyperledger, a collaborative project organized by the Linux Foundation to promote open source blockchain technology. It has contributed 44,000 lines of code to that initiative so far.

To be sure, IBM is not the only organization backing blockchain. But it is one of the biggest to be investing in it is a major way. Just as Big Blue played a pivotal role in convincing the industry that Linux was ready for the big leagues when it announced a billion-dollar investment in the kernel nearly two decades ago, it is now throwing its support behind another emerging technology that is likely to become hugely important in niches from banking to IoT.