Multiple blockchain start-ups around the globe have been working to bridge the gap between the technology itself and its usable application. These start-ups have raised substantial funds and some prominent industry leaders have come on board. Many of them are even working in collaboration with well-known companies across industries.
In particular, Microsoft Corporation (MSFT) not only sees great potential in the blockchain technology, it also sees it as a big business opportunity. Meet Microsoft Azure, the public cloud platform offering Blockchain as a Service (BaaS).
According to Marley Gray, Director, Technology Strategy US Financial Services at Microsoft Azure, “Blockchain and the whole ecosystem is a fast moving space. We look to make Microsoft Azure the absolute best place to develop, test and deploy distributed ledger applications in cloud, hybrid and local environments.”
Microsoft collaborated with ConsenSys to deliver to enterprise businesses the Ethereum Blockchain-as-a-Service, by way of Microsoft Azure, towards the end of October 2015. The project has been growing at a good pace since then with new partners and participants joining in.
One recent notable experiment features financial technology innovation company R3 CEV along with 11 banks: Barclays, BMO Financial Group, Credit Suisse, HSBC, Natixis, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Royal Bank of Scotland, TD Bank, UBS, UniCredit and Wells Fargo.
During the trial, each of them “connected on an R3-managed private peer-to-peer distributed ledger, underpinned by Ethereum technology and hosted on a virtual private network in Microsoft Azure.” The fintech R3 CEV has 42 of the world’s prominent banks as its members.
With the advantages that blockchain offers, there is a flurry of interest across businesses (especially financial services) to embrace and benefit from it. This is something Microsoft is looking to tap - it wants banks and financial companies to use the Azure platform to host their blockchains.
“We see a huge opportunity here,” said Gray. "Enterprise-scale and enterprise-grade infrastructure is going to be vitally important for this financial infrastructure that will be woven using blockchain over these next few years.”
Microsoft has, in fact, partnered with many start-ups and bigger companies working on blockchain projects. The existing partners in the Microsoft Azure BaaS ecosystem includes names like ConsenSys, Ripple, Eris Industries, CoinPrism, Factom, BitPay, Manifold Technology, LibraTax and Emercoin.
The recent developments around Azure BaaS has been the addition of MultiChain and Netki as partners. Multi Chain allows organizations to rapidly design, deploy and operate distributed ledgers, while Netki, Inc designs solutions and facilitates the use of blockchain-based products such as bitcoin, tether and ethereum.
Additionally, Azure BaaS also unveiled the New Dev/Test labs integration. According to the update, “Blockchain technologies will become even easier to build and test using Azure's DevTest Labs currently in preview. All Blockchain-related services and partners can now be setup in a lab environment and added as artifacts to the lab as you create it.”
Blockchain's distributed ledger is a tamper-proof method of recording and storing data in a “permissioned” or “unpermissioned” manner. There have been multiple reports which spell the benefits and cost advantage of the distributed ledger technology, attracting entities to experiment with it. A World Economic Forum Survey Report, predicts that 10% of global gross domestic product (GDP) could be stored on blockchain technology by 2025.
Chris Larsen, CEO of Ripple, has rightly said, “Microsoft adds credibility as to where the industry is going.” With most versions of blockchain still in a nascent state, the process of testing and refining will continue before these can be put to practice.
Microsoft not only provides a platform to various experimental projects, adding confidence in the process, it is well positioned to turn its Azure BaaS platform into a significant revenue generator.