Microsoft Looks to Take the Blockchain to the Next Level with Project Bletchey

The blockchain continues getting adoption within the enterprise software incumbents. In her recent appearance at the Code Conference, IBM’s CEO Ginni Rometty mentioned that the market around the blockchain was comparable or bigger than the artificial intelligence market. A few days ago, Microsoft made it clear that they are serious about the blockchain solution market with the release of Project Bletchey.

This is not Microsoft’s first contribution to the blockchain space but is certainly the most impactful one. Last November, the Redmond giant announced the releases of its blockchain as a service (BaaS) technology powered by Microsoft Azure. Project Bletchey takes the blockchain capabilities within Azure to a different level by expanding the distributed ledger with a series of building blocks that will enable enterprises to build business solutions powered by the blockchain.

With Project Bletchey, Azure will serve as the distributed fabric to enable distributed blockchain applications across its 24 global regions. Additionally, Azure will support blockchain native protocols such as Unspent Transaction Output-based protocols (UTXO) like Hyperledger or Ethereum’s Smart Contracts. Project Bletchey expands the core capabilities of the blockchain with a sophisticated architecture that will simplify the implementation of enterprise-ready blockchain solutions. The following figure shows a high level architecture of Project Bletchey.

The most important contribution of Project Bletchey is the introduction of two new concepts that are very relevant in enterprise blockchain solutions: cryplets and blockchain middleware.

Cryplets are a new building block in Microsoft’s vision of the blockchain. Functionally, cryplets enable the communication between the blockchain and external data sources. In classic blockchain, if external data is needed to execute a smart contract then an “oracle” is required. However, there is no standard way to supply “oracle” data securely. Executing code outside a smart contract or blockchain in general is breaking the trust barrier threatening the authenticity of the dependent transactions. Cryptlets supply this functionality.

Cryptlets are off-chain code components that are written in any language, execute within a secure, trusted container and communicated with using secure channels. Cryptlets can be used in smart contracts and UTXO systems when additional functionality or information is needed and provided without violating the integrity of the blockchain.

The blockchain middleware expands the blockchain with a series of core services that enable essential building blocks of blockchain applications. The first release of the blockchain middleware includes the following services:

· Identity and Certificate Services: Enables key identity management capabilities such as authentication, access control or key issuance.

· Encryption Services: Provides data payload and field level encryption.

· Cryplet Services: Provides hosting and execution of cryplets.

· Blockchain Gateway Services: Enables interoperability between different blockchain ledger systems like Hyperledger or Smart Contracts.

· Data Services: Enable access to key data services like file systems or databases.

· Management and Operations: Set of tools for managing and deploying blockchain solutions.

Project Bletchey is the first iteration of Microsoft’s broad vision for adopting blockchain technologies in enterprise solutions. Certainly, the additions of concepts like cryplets and middleware represent interesting innovations in the blockchain space. Hopefully, the blockchain technical community will be receptive to this new architecture principles. Regardless, the first release of Project Bletchey bring us a step closer to making blockchain technologies in the enterprise a reality.

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