Microsoft boosts blockchain efforts with Ethereum-based Project Bletchley

Microsoft has announced the availability of Project Bletchley, its Ethereum-based consortium blockchain technology that was first unveiled in June of this year.

Being able to set up and run consortium blockchains is a significant step toward creating scalable, next-generation enterprise apps that can employ the best aspects of the blockchain, Microsoft said. Blockchain is the distributed ledger technology used by Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Consortium blockchains are those, according to the Ethereum Foundation’s description, “where the consensus process is controlled by a pre-selected set of nodes. For example, one might imagine a consortium of 15 financial institutions, each of which operates a node; 10 must sign every block in order for the block to be valid.” Consortium blockchain networks can be set up as “public,” meaning they’re accessible to everyone, “restricted” or “partially decentralized.”

Bletchley 1.0 is Microsoft’s attempt at helping developers familiarize themselves with private multi-node consortium networks, the company said. According to Christine Avanessians, senior program manager at Microsoft Azure, it’s planning to grow this part of its Azure-based blockchain-as-a-service through strong integration with the rest of its cloud services.

“We are ‘releasing early and releasing often’ to provide you with the latest updates quickly and to get your feedback throughout the development of the service,” Avanessian said in a statement. “Keep an eye out for further updates including support for additional Microsoft services, like Azure Active Directory and Key Vault, and other blockchain protocols.”

According to Marley Gray, principal program manager at Microsoft Azure Blockchain Engineering, Bletchley 1.0 significantly reduces the time it takes to deploy an Ethereum network.

“It reduces the estimated three-week process of setting up a globally distributed multi-node consortium Ethereum network down to 8 questions and 5-8 minutes,” Gray wrote in a blog post. “Not only does Bletchley v1 automate the setup of the network infrastructure but it sets up a portal for rapidly getting started developing applications on Ethereum.”

Blockchain technology is exciting lots of companies besides just Microsoft. Just this summer, IBM launched its own secure, cloud-based blockchain service that uses its LinuxONE systems to offer firmware protection that prevents root users and system admins from accessing data. And in August, IBM followed up with the creation of its Industry Platforms business unit that will oversee its blockchain efforts.

“The Industry Platforms business will bring clients radically optimized processes and marketplaces that leverage Watson, IBM Cloud, IBM Systems, blockchain, deep domain expertise and ecosystems of partners and developers,” said IBM Chief Executive Ginni Rometty at the time.

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