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Microsoft Introduces Blockchain Proof of Concept Framework for Developers

| by Kent Weare Follow 7 Followers on Jun 11, 2017. Estimated reading time: 2 minutes |

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In a recent blog post, Microsoft announced a framework for accelerating enterprise-ready proof of concept (PoC) blockchain deployments in their Azure cloud platform. Microsoft wants their customers focused on developing sound business scenarios through smart contracts and less time on the infrastructure that underpins distributed ledger technology (DLT) solutions.

Building blockchain PoCs can be a time consuming and costly endeavor. Microsoft is taking steps to reduce both the lead time and costs associated with blockchain PoCs. Marc Mercuri, director of applied innovation at Microsoft, explains

When our customers and partners estimate the time and costs for developing a blockchain PoC, they often find that it can take 8-12 weeks and cost as much as $300,000. Besides being time consuming and expensive, this is a huge missed opportunity. Quickly understanding the viability of a PoC can accelerate a business’s understanding of blockchain and save the time and cost associated with a less impactful project.

Blockchain applications also require supporting code and services in order to build an entire distributed solution. This additional overhead is something Microsoft refers to as scaffolding and feels there is an opportunity to reduce the friction in this area. Mercuri explains:

Microsoft identified that most of the time in these PoC projects was spent developing code and building capabilities that surrounded the blockchain, often referred to as “scaffolding.” That scaffolding typically required building a responsive web client, writing and deploying a gateway API, implementing support for off-chain storage in technologies such as SQL DB, building out reporting and analytics, and integrating identity and key vault services into the solution.

The blockchain PoC framework will provide customers with the ability to publish underlying code and Azure services using Azure Resource Manager (ARM) templates. ARM templates are JSON files that consist of expressions and parameters which drive the provisioning of a service in Azure. Within the blockchain PoC framework, customers can quickly provision: 

a gateway API, a responsive web application, Azure Active Directory integration, Azure Key Vault integration and SQL DB.

In this scenario, the SQL DB can be configured to collect on-chain data. In order to provide the right level of attestation, Microsoft will also provide Hashing and Signing services. Since the blockchain data is being replicated into an off-chain store, Microsoft allows organizations to leverage their existing skillsets to enable additional capabilities using Power BI, chat bots, machine learning, R and Azure Data Factory. Underpinning this framework is Microsoft’s high-scale publish/subscribe ingestion engine called Azure Event Hubs. Using Azure Event Hubs, customers can also wire-in additional Azure services like Azure Stream Analytics and Azure Data Lakes.

Microsoft is also trying to make the experience of building web applications on top of the blockchain simpler. Mercuri explains:

The framework also makes it possible to create the web application without writing any code. It uses meta-data provided for smart contracts to dynamically deliver a contextual user experience for participants.

The blockchain PoC framework was demonstrated at the Consensus 2017 conference last month in New York. It is currently in private preview.

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