Microsoft debuts Coco Framework to improve blockchain performance, privacy

Microsoft is working to address some of the current limitations of enterprise blockchain with a new cross-platform framework designed to make it more scalable, governable, and confidential.

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Microsoft is continuing to beat the enterprise blockchain drum, unveiling on Aug. 10 an open framework designed to improve its performance, confidentiality, and governance.

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The Coco Framework -- short for "confidential consortium" -- is meant to work with any ledger protocol and work on any operating system and hypervisor that supports a compatible Trusted Execution Environment (TEE), or secure area of a processor. The Framework can be used on-premises and/or in various vendors' clouds, officials said.

Microsoft is making a technical whitepaper about the Coco Framework available today. Officials said they will make the framework available on GitHub in 2018 as an open-source project.

Microsoft has been working on advancing its own Blockchain-as-a-Service technology since November 2015. In 2016, Microsoft took the wraps off version 1 of its Project Bletchley blockchain template/middleware, which was meant to help customers and partners create private consortium Ethereum networks. (Ethereum is an open-source, blockchain-based distributed computing platform that provides a decentralized virtual machine.)

"We think blockchain will transform pretty much every industry," said Azure Chief Technology Officer Mark Russinovich. "We're working with customers and partners to make it easier for them to play with."

Interestingly, Microsoft is not tying the Coco Framework to Azure. Customers could opt to run Coco Framework nodes in their own datacenters or on other clouds. Microsoft is making Windows Virtual Secure Mode -- which uses the virtualization extensions of the CPU to provide added security of data in memory -- as one option for the framework's deployment.

(Image: Microsoft)

The Coco Framework is not a distributed ledger itself; it is meant to provide the infrastructural underpinnings for the growing number of such ledgers that are emerging from different vendors and groups. As of today, Coco already supports 10 different ledgers, includng R3 Corda, Intel Hyperledger Sawtooth, J.P. Morgan Quorum, and Ethereum.

Blockchain is the technology that underpins the cryptocurrency Bitcoin. But it has uses beyond that. A blockchain is a shared, distributed ledger that can store the complete transaction history of not just cryptocurrency but other kinds of records. As such, it's of interest to many enterprises, especially those in banking and finance.

The limited scalability, lack of confidentiality between blockchain-transaction participants, and shortage of simple, centralized governance has held back blockchain's adoption by more enterprise customers, Russinovich said. Microsoft and some of the partners with which it has been working on Coco believe the framework will help with these issues with its scalable network of nodes and provisions for governing membership.


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