At the time of Bitcoin’s inception, its most revolutionary feature was its public blockchain: a ledger that anyone could view, and a consensus system that anyone could participate in. Many blockchains that followed it were public as well.
However, the public and shared nature of blockchain are not particularly well-suited to businesses and enterprises, who may need to deploy their own private or consortium blockchains. Microsoft Azure is one system that provides specialized blockchain services to enterprise clients.
History and Availability
Microsoft Azure is a cloud service that provides software and platforms “as a service.” When Azure was introduced in 2010, it provided non-blockchain tools, such as database products, virtual machines, and web hosting platforms.
However, Azure rapidly expanded its offerings. Beginning in 2015, Microsoft added several blockchain platforms to the Azure marketplace, allowing clients to quickly deploy platforms such as Corda, Hyperledger Fabric, and Ethereum.
At the moment, more than 40 blockchain platforms are available on the Azure Marketplace. Additionally, the Azure Blockchain Workbench, which provides additional connectivity and app development features, was introduced in May 2018. Other improvements are continually being added.
Blockchain as a Service
Azure offers “blockchain as a service,” which means that various aspects of blockchain technology are automated, pre-configured, or handled by vendors. In other words, Azure allows blockchain platforms to be set up and maintained nearly effortlessly.
This eliminates the initial cost of setup and maintenance. Although vendors on the Azure marketplace usually charge their own fees, Microsoft does offer credits toward certain services. As a result, the cost of Azure services can be quite variable but are generally cheaper than traditional solutions.
Just as importantly, Azure configures its blockchain products to connect with other resources. Thanks to cloud-based data and resources, Azure clients can save on the cost of equipment and hardware. This allows clients to communicate with cloud data, make use of remotely provided computing resources, and grant blockchain permissions to partners.
Microsoft’s website features various use cases for Azure’s blockchain products: the most common application is supply chain monitoring, which allows businesses to monitor real-world data. Insurwave, for example, uses the Corda blockchain to track item statuses and gauge shipping risks. This allows Insurwave to calculate insurance premiums for shipping companies.
Although supply chain management is a common application, Azure’s blockchain platforms can be used for nearly anything. Microsoft itself uses Azure to provide royalty statements to XBOX game publishers. Meanwhile, Webjet uses Rezchain on Azure to resolve hotel booking disputes. Since Azure offers a vast array of blockchains, the possibilities are virtually endless.