Microsoft has rolled out a new Blockchain-as-a-Service (BaaS) product to Azure, which could allow businesses to roll out Ethereum-based blockchains within minutes with ‘single-click’ access to distributed ledger technologies (DLT).
Azure’s current support of Ethereum, which it says has been deployed “tens of thousands of times” across a variety of industry verticals, has been based so far on a Proof-of-Work protocol, which requires expensive computer calculations in order to create secure and trustless transactions on a DLT – a process otherwise known as mining.
“This works great in anonymous, open networks where competition for cryptocurrency promotes security on the network,” said Azure Global software engineer, Cody Born. “However, in private/consortium networks the underlying ether has no value.”
On Tuesday, Azure introduced an alternative protocol, Proof-of-Authority, aimed specifically at permissioned networks where participants are “known and reputable” to one another, where governance can be separated from the network’s operation.
The protocol can be executed using an in-built decentralised application (dApp) called ‘Governance DApp’, that will allow each node – or individual member – to govern the network of hand their voting power to others.
“In Proof-of-Authority, each consensus node on the network has its own Ethereum identity,” explained Born, adding that as a safeguard to a primary node going offline, each participant can delegate multiple “redundant” nodes to run on their behalf, or delegate the voting power to another operator.
“With this solution, each consortium member has custody over his or her own keys, allowing secure signing to be performed in the wallet of preference, for example, MetaMask in-browser wallet, Ledger hardware wallet, or Azure Key Vault with ECC signing,” said Born.
Meanwhile, network administrators are able to use on-chain voting to nominate or alter authorities with transparency. This network and node activity can be tracked in with Azure Monitor, which will provide visibility into the underlying blockchain to track block generation statistics and quickly detect or prevent network outages through infrastructure stats and queryable logs.
A final boon for making its BaaS accessible is Azure enabling support for developers to author smart contracts in familiar languages such as C, C++, and Rust; “Enterprise developers often cite Solidity language as one of the largest pain points when developing on Ethereum,” said Born.
All of this could hugely simplify the uptake of blockchain among Microsoft’s enterprise partners, and while the Proof-of-Authority protocol is not completely new, its uptake by the software giant could set a trend for competitor products to follow suit.