The Ethereum Blockchain as a Service provided by Microsoft Azure and ConsenSys allows customers to create private, public and consortium-based blockchain environments. The framework provides the foundation to add capabilities such as Cortana Analytics (machine learning), Power BI (data visualization tools), Azure Active Directory (identity and access management for the cloud), Office 365 (Office online) and CRMOL (CRM Online for Government). New development frameworks will ignite blockchain applications over the next few years.
Ethereum Blockchain as a Service on Azure
In November 2015, Marley Gray, director of BizDev & Strategy, Cloud and Enterprise at Microsoft, announced a partnership with ConsenSys to offer an Ethereum Blockchain as a Service (EBaaS) on Azure. ConsenSys Ethereum works off four core technological pieces that are coordinated to enable the Ethereum decentralized application platform:
- Cryptographic tokens and addresses: a mathematically secure unique voucher system that can be used pay for goods, services or assets, or represent a pseudonymous identity.
- Peer-to-peer networking: individual users connect their computers together forming a network to exchange data without a central server.
- Consensus formation algorithm: this algorithm permits users of the blockchain to reach consensus about the current state of the blockchain.
- Turing complete virtual machine: a virtual machine is a computer that exists as software, and “Turing complete” means that this software computer can run any computer program.
Note: More information is available on at the ConsenSys Ethereum website. These core functions were abbreviated for simplicity.
Large enterprises finding little ones
What can be achieved with Microsoft’s blockchain development platforms that is practical? In April 2016, Gem partnered with Philips Healthcare for a blockchain healthcare initiative leveraging Ethereum. Gem is building a blockchain ecosystem for healthcare to address clinical data, claims processing, pharmaceutical supply chains, internet of health, universal health identities and genomic data management. In January 2016, Gem received an additional $7.1 million in Series A funding, bringing its cumulative funding to $10.4 million. Several investors got in early to support Gem, including Pelion Venture Partners with KEC Ventures, Blockchain Capital, Digital Currency Group, RRE Ventures, Tamarisk Global, Drummond Road Capital, Tekton Ventures, Amplify.LA, Danmar Capital and James Joaquin.
While Gem was founded in 2014, Philips was founded in 1891. Philips also closed Q4 2015 reporting $12.01 billion in sales across its personal care, health and wellness, and domestic appliances businesses. Philips began its 2015 strategy early, and by late 2014 had established the Royal Philips (HealthTech) operating model to take advantage of an aggressive HealthTech. In its 2015 fourth-quarter results presentation, Philips said its objective is to target the $154 billion (CAGR 2014-2018) addressable market across six health opportunities based on the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of each opportunity:
- Healthy living ($38 billion, CAGR 4%)
- Prevention ($17 billion, CAGR >10%)
- Diagnosis ($39 billion, CAGR 6%)
- Treatment ($17 billion, CAGR 7%)
- Home care ($17 billion, CAGR >10%)
- Monitoring, informatics, and connected care ($28 billion, CAGR 4%)
Gem is not alone and has strong competition from Bitalo, BitGo, Block.io, Blocktrail and QuickWallet. The challenge for many companies considering exploring blockchain is that many blockchain companies appear very similar. Cursory research yields a blur in value across blockchain companies. However, further investigation offers a different vantage point once the infrastructure and capabilities are understood – many of the core capabilities among blockchain companies differ wildly.
The Blockchain as a Service on Microsoft Azure promotes an initial offering of two tools empowering SmartContract-based applications:
- Ether.Camp, an integrated developer environment.
- BlockApps, a private, semi-private Ethereum blockchain environment that can deploy into the public Ethereum environment.
Ether.Camp, founded by Roman Mandeleil, does three things well. First, the Ether.Camp team built a Java implementation of Ethereum. Second, they created a well-designed Ether.camp Blockchain Explorer. The Explorer has similar functionality as blockchain.info, but it’s akin to an enhanced 2.0 version allowing users to drill down through smart contracts and even trace code on the blockchain. And third, it offers a straightforward, integrated development environment (IDE), allowing developers to play and deploy. Want to build an app that uses the blockchain for a receipt confirmation? Your team’s developers could use this application to do just that.
BlockApps, short for the “BlockApps STRATO Ethereum Blockchain Network,” started with the idea that businesses need blockchain applications, not just blockchains.
The BlockApps platform was designed to allow many-to-many microservices supported by REST APIs (allowing access into legacy systems) reinforced with modular architecture and presented under a managed solution. The heart of the system is to promote the rapid deployment and management of blockchain applications. Seamless deployments allow developers to create proofs of concept in a test environment and then deploy to production with no additional development. Many of the products today used for rapid mobile development, such as Angular.io, OutSystems Platform, Salesforce, Mendix, Django and Spring Boot, don’t offer support for blockchain smart contracts. It’s inevitable these industry leaders are racing to incorporate blockchain smart contract functionality into their platforms.
From Microsoft with BlockApps on Azure to Stratis, companies are exploring how to develop application frameworks that enable active development across systems (Ethereum and Bitcoin) while offering compatibility. Over the next year, we’ll be seeing more blockchain decentralized app hosting offerings with one-click deployment frameworks, leveraging managed hosting solutions to achieve scalability and speed.