Blockchain, a key element of the bitcoin digital currency, may offer new implementations and designs for internet...
trust that are more secure than the current certificate hierarchy.
The blockchain technology used with bitcoin builds a model that relies on everyone keeping an eye on everyone else in the network -- participants prove their trustworthiness through transactions that are validated and written to a ledger that everyone can monitor. Through a unique model of cryptography, each participant can validate an identity and its transactions at any time.
Blockchain technology has seen a growing number of applications beyond cryptocurrency in recent years. For example, new vendors, like Guardtime, offer blockchain platforms for securing supply chain connectivity, and traditional software vendors, like SAP, now have blockchain services for their software-as-a-service cloud offerings (SAP Leonardo now offers blockchain as a service).
Blockchain cloud service and tools offerings
One specific provider that is moving rapidly to develop and offer tools and technology based on blockchain in the cloud is Microsoft. Late in 2016, Microsoft Azure introduced blockchain as a service to develop and deploy applications that use the distributed ledger technology. In addition, the company recently expanded its blockchain support on Azure to include multimember consortium blockchain networks, which, according to Microsoft, makes the company the first public cloud to do so.
Microsoft entering this space and offering support for blockchain cloud services is important, as it represents a very large, supported ecosystem for application development that may enable organizations to start shifting away from traditional SSL/TLS certificate-based cryptography models that rely on a hierarchy of trust. Blockchain establishes that trust through a distributed ledger that records transactions like a database, but that has no central location or administrator capabilities.
There are tools available now for technology and security teams interested in trying out blockchain in the cloud. These tools are for teams looking to integrate with partners and other supply chain members using standard Microsoft development libraries, and looking into new technologies built on the Microsoft blockchain platform. Some of these tools include:
- Azure Blockchain Service -- Organizations can deploy blockchain networks based on templates that Microsoft provides.
- BlockApps Strato platform -- A development platform for integrating blockchain using the open Ethereum blockchain platform, with RESTful APIs to make integration easier.
- Chain Core Developer Edition -- Blockchain networking specifically for financial transactions and transferring financial data using blockchain.
- Ethereum Studio -- A full Ethereum development platform on Azure.
- Emercoin Blockchain Engine -- A development platform that uses the customized Emercoin blockchain engine within Azure.
As more of these tools and products become available, they may help speed up the adoption of blockchain in the cloud and enhance some organizations' efforts to secure the entire cloud-based infrastructure and supply chain with encryption technology.
Keeping the environment secure
This has significant ramifications for online trust and access control within the cloud today. First, some organizations may have multiple business units or divisions that do not trust each other, or they may not be able to share cloud environments easily -- or at all.
Microsoft's new Azure multimember blockchain networking enables these organizations to cooperate and share information without sharing one environment. The same goes for different organizations that need to cooperate and share information, perhaps as part of a supply chain endeavor.
Microsoft has released a series of templates that enable organizations to quickly set up Azure virtual networks that share the same blockchain base, thus creating a trust model for the blockchain ledger between groups that want to jointly use this type of encryption.
Another major advantage to Microsoft building this type of platform is one of scale; as one of the largest global cloud providers today, enterprises and business units in different geographic regions and locations can now build joint blockchain infrastructures and deploy diverse applications on the same provider's toolkit.
That's not to say that everyone will move in this direction quickly -- it will likely take some time for organizations to start building blockchain-based applications, whether in the cloud or not. But as more services and environments start to move away from SSL/TLS as the primary web and cloud encryption model -- especially for web applications and services -- having blockchain in the cloud will be increasingly valuable.
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