On June 15 Microsoft announced Project Bletchley, which outlines the company’s vision for an “open, modular blockchain fabric powered by Azure,” Microsoft’s cloud computing service and highlights new key elements in enterprise blockchain architecture.
The way was paved for the new modular framework in November 2015, when Microsoft partnered with Consensus Systems (aka ConsenSys), a blockchain startup based in Brooklyn, New York and focused on Ethereum technology to enable customers of Azure to easily build cloud-based blockchain applications. Since then, it has added to the number of blockchain-oriented offerings that can be hosted on Azure and has signalled its interest in blockchain technology at the highest corporate levels.
“Since launching Microsoft Azure Blockchain as a Service (BaaS) last November, we’ve been working side-by-side with businesses and partners to understand core industry scenarios and to develop the technologies and ecosystem that will bring blockchain to enterprises, governments and people successfully,” says Marley Gray, Director of Business Development, Cloud and Enterprise - Blockchain/Distributed Ledger Ecosystem at Microsoft, in a blog post.
Gray continues: “Project Bletchley is a vision for Microsoft to deliver Blockchain as a Service (BaaS) that is open and flexible for all platforms, partners and customers.”
According to the company, Project Bletchley has been defined with the help of extensive feedback provided by early adopters of blockchain technology across different industries. Among the key requirements that emerged are platform openness, performance, scale, support and stability, as well as integration of identity, key management, privacy, security, operations management and interoperability. Microsoft emphasizes the importance of members-only, permissioned blockchains for consortium members to execute contracts.
“In Project Bletchley, Azure provides the fabric for blockchain, serving as the cloud platform where distributed applications are built and delivered,” says Gray. “Microsoft Azure’s availability in 24 regions across the globe, hybrid cloud capabilities, extensive compliance certification portfolio and enterprise-grade security enable blockchain adoption, especially in highly regulated industries like financial services, healthcare and government.”
In April, Microsoft announced a strategic partnership with R3 CEV, which leads a distributed ledger consortium of nearly 50 global banks to push the development of distributed ledger technology. Under the terms of the partnership, the R3 consortium will use Azure as its preferred cloud platform, and Microsoft will provide the R3 with cloud-based development tools. Among other activities, R3 has been testing various blockchain technologies with its consortium members.
The Azure cloud service will be open to a variety of blockchain protocols, supporting simple, Unspent Transaction Output-based protocols (UTXO) such as Hyperledger, more sophisticated, smart contract-based protocols such as Ethereum and others as developed.
“Azure will remain open to all protocols, consensus algorithms, databases and virtual machines,” says Gray in a detailed Project Bletchley white paper. “However, Bletchley will introduce a modular framework allowing for you to choose what combination of technologies best fits the business domain you are trying to address. Because each blockchain/distributed ledger will have all nodes on that network agree, there will by default be many ledgers.”
To achieve a robust flexibility, Bletchley will introduce blockchain middleware ‒ packaged components able to provide different services to blockchain applications running on Azure, including identity and certificate services, encryption services and blockchain gateway services.
Cryptlets, introduced in Bletchley, are off-chain middleware components that are executed within a secure, trusted container and accessed through secure channels, ready to be used in smart contracts and UTXO applications. Cryptlets come in two types: utility cryptlets to provide horizontal services such as encryption, time and date events, external data access and authentication services; and contract cryptlets to provide execution logic and secure data storage for smart contract applications. According to Microsoft, cryptlets will become a critical component of sophisticated blockchain systems, enabling all technology to work together in a secure, scalable way.
“The evolution of blockchain implementations mirrors that of the web generation of technologies,” notes the Microsoft white paper. “We see the need for middleware to be introduced into this ecosystem to supply enterprise grade services around identity, security, cryptography, scale, tooling, management, monitoring and reporting. The difference, this time, is the cloud.”
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