Microsoft has announced details of a new Azure-based blockchain-as-a-service offering called Project Bletchley that aims to make it easier for enterprises to adopt and build on blockchain services.
Blockchain technologies provide an immutable and incorruptible record of transactions and are the basis of cypto-currencies like bitcoin. They are currently attracting major investment from tech companies and the financial sector.
Project Bletchley will allow applications to be built on an open blockchain backbone, and includes support for private blockchains for smart contracts, i.e. automated transactions between machines.
"In Project Bletchley, Azure provides the fabric for blockchain, serving as the cloud platform where distributed applications are built and delivered," wrote Marley Gray, director of business development and strategy for cloud and enterprise at Microsoft, in a blog post.
"Azure will be open to a variety of blockchain protocols, supporting simple, Unspent Transaction Output-based protocols (UTXO) like Hyperledger, more sophisticated, smart contract-based protocols like Ethereum, and others as developed."
Microsoft explained that Project Bletchley will tackle some of the problems with blockchains, such as scalability and performance.
The project will essentially consist of middleware to provide core services such as identity and operations management, as well as offering analytics and machine learning capabilities. A Project Bletchley white paper provides more details.
"These technologies will ensure the secure, immutable operation that blockchain provides, at the same time delivering the business intelligence and reporting capabilities business leaders and regulators demand," said Gray.
The project also introduces 'cryptlets', off-chain code components that execute in a secure, trusted container and communicate using secure channels. These are intended to secure the connection between business applications and the blockchain fabric as well as helping to manage transactions by providing information required without referring to external sources.
"Cryptlets function when additional information is needed to execute a transaction or contract, such as date and time," Gray said. "They will become a critical component of sophisticated blockchain systems, enabling all technology to work together in a secure, scalable way."
Microsoft announced a partnership with Blockstack and ConsenSys earlier this month to develop an open source identity verification system based on the Ethereum blockchain. It is not clear at this stage how the two announcements fit together.
IBM unveiled a blockchain-as-a-service offering on its Bluemix cloud platform in February together with tools to allow developers to create, test and deploy blockchain applications in the cloud.
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