Microsoft is out to make its Azure Blockchain-as-a-Service offering easier for businesses to build real-world applications atop it.
Microsoft's next step in its evolving Blockchain-as-a-Service strategy is the introduction of Enterprise Smart Contracts.
"Our customers and partners often say to us, 'Ok, you've made it easy for me to stand up these blockchain networks, but what do I do now?' blogged Marley Gray, Principal Program Manager for Azure Blockchain Engineering.
A quick refresher on what Microsoft is doing in the blockchain space: 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.
Microsoft initially launched Azure Blockchain-as-a-Service in 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.)
With Enterprise Smart Contracts, Microsoft is attempting to help businesses figure out how to build on top of blockchain as a service. Enterprise contracts provide users with schema (the data elements for the execution and fulfillment of contracts); logic (business rules); counterparties; external sources (input of data triggers); ledger; and contract binding.
Microsoft's Azure public cloud -- and its coming Azure Stack hybrid cloud platform -- provides the building blocks for the core capabilities required to implement Enterprise Smart Contracts, Gray noted, but business users needed to do more than simply share the same cryptographic primitives as blockchains. They need a platform plus a framework.
The platform -- which includes Azure, Azure Key Vault and Azure Active Directory can handle tasks like key management, integration of enterprise identity, cryptographic proof generation, etc. The framework builds on top of this platform, with KeyVault authorization; runtime environment services; transaction builder and router and a message-based programming interface.
The blockchain framework plus "cryptlets" middleware are what will help businesses be able to build and integrate distributed applications, Gray said.
Microsoft published last week a technical whitepaper outlining its Enterprise Smart Contract framework that explains its approach in more depth.