Yesterday Chinese search engine firm Baidu launched an entry-level blockchain hosting solution called “Open Network”. The offering is targeted at SMEs and developers and is based on Baidu’s open-source blockchain protocol, XuperChain. Given the government frowns upon public blockchains, the solution is for private or consortium blockchains.

Last year Baidu unveiled its own Blockchain as a Service platform (BaaS) which involved someone deploying their own hosted blockchain network. But from providing technical support, it discovered that organizations and developers found it challenging to set up a blockchain network, according to the Securities Times Network.

In a similar vein to the state-initiated Blockchain Service Network, Baidu aims to enable SMEs and developers to deploy distributed apps (dApps) without the need to set up a blockchain network. Baidu also provides templates to make it easier to develop blockchain smart contracts as well as other tools. The XuperChain protocol supports smart contracts that use Ethereum’s Solidity language.

A key benefit is flexible hosting pricing. However, it sounds as though Baidu’s model is similar to Amazon AWS, which bills according to the usage of storage and computing resources. On the one hand, the pricing is fair because it matches costs. But many users, especially at the lower end of the market, worry about the lack of predictability of variable charges. Baidu estimates that for a three-node app with 10,000 transactions per day the price could be around RMB 7,000 per year ($980) compared to a fully hosted BaaS service of RMB 50,000 ($7,000).

So far the network includes seven hosts including nodes at Tsinghua University and video platform iQiyi.

The platform meets the requirements of “Chinese blockchain standards”. This could refer to the private blockchain, but may also mean that it uses Chinese encryption standards as opposed to international ones.

Outside of the new offering, Baidu’s XuperChain boasts almost 3.5 million users and has processed more than 450 million transactions. Its peak load to date shows an ability to handle 353 transactions per second.

Baidu has launched numerous applications, including two high profile initiatives with government departments. In August it unveiled a solution for legal arbitration with Qingdao Arbitration Commission which uses 5G technology.

The same month the firm disclosed a collaboration with the Yuzhong District of Chongqing which has a 30 million population. Starting with e-prescriptions, the blockchain health solution is targeting sharing medical data.

One of Baidu’s first blockchain initiatives was a copyright protection platform launched in 2018.