Microsoft Azure is a scalable cloud services platform similar to Amazon’s AWS. It offers cloud-based storage, computing, networking, databases, and enterprise-level management, production and deployment environments, along with advanced services such as analytics.
Using it has been likened to having an IT department outsourced to Microsoft services, as it allows customers to spend more time and resources on building applications that benefit their organization, rather than managing hardware and software. Although only a few years old, Azure faces diverse competition from Amazon, Google, IBM, Oracle, Salesforce.com, VMware, and even open source offerings.
"Microsoft Azure is a growing collection of integrated cloud services—analytics, computing, database, mobile, networking, storage, and web—for moving faster, achieving more, and saving money."
- Microsoft Azure
According to Microsoft, 55 percent of Fortune 500 companies use Windows Azure already, and growth is steady. The cloud platform’s revenue and compute usage increased by over 100 percent in the fourth quarter, year over year, and is now available in 140 countries with over 20 datacenter regions, more than any other public cloud.
Compared to the previous year, 2014 saw commercial revenue increase US$4.2 billion, or 9%, mainly due to growth in revenue from on-premises licensing businesses and Commercial Cloud. Forty percent of Azure revenue comes from startups and Independent Software Vendors (ISVs).
Deutsche Bank estimates that Amazon’s AWS revenues are already US$6 billion this year, or nearly ten times the size of Microsoft Azure, whose revenues for the current fiscal year are estimated between US$500M and US$700M. Meanwhile, Azure revenues account for approximately 1 to 2% of total Microsoft revenues.
In October, Microsoft announced a partnership with startup ConsenSys, an Ethereum-based solutions provider for private blockchains and Decentralized Applications (dApps). The partnership makes it easier for developers and companies to experiment with the Ethereum blockchain, and create their own dApps built on top of the platform.
Soon after that first announcement, at Ethereum’s Devcon convention, the team at Microsoft unveiled that they are keeping very busy signing up more partners. On Dec 15, Microsoft announced that they have also taken on several new customers, forming “a line” of interested parties awaiting the official launch of the category in the Azure Marketplace, according to Marley Gray, Microsoft’s Director of Technology Strategy US Financial Services.
For each of these partnerships, Microsoft plans to offer at least one ‘quickstart template’ in Azure, which is a deployment package for customers to install on their account, and lets them use a “Blockchain as a Service,” or BaaS.
There are already two apps showing in Azure's Quickstart Templates directory with the word 'blockchain' in their description, and both are from partner ConsenSys, made for deploying Ethereum quickly.
The first deploys a GO-based Etherium package on Ubuntu Linux environments, and the second package creates a virtual machine running Ethereum through ConsenSys’ BlockApps STRATO platform. In time, there could be dozens or even hundreds of such packages from many various blockchain service vendors.
The end result of these blockchain company partnerships appears to be a way to quickly deploy and test every partner’s blockchain service or dApp. Banks, corporations, and even governments can simply subscribe to Azure, deploy one or more of these BaaS packages in a matter of minutes, have all of the technical and hardware concerns taken care of for them automatically, and immediately start testing the value of each blockchain offering for their business.
Such unprecedented access to the new field of Blockchain services will be sure to bring rapid understanding across the financial world, and customers have already started using it. “We have several customers taking advantage of the Blockchain as a Service platform and an active pipeline of partners getting on-boarded,” Gray adds.
The question of which blockchain is right for each customer will soon be decided as easily as trying out a few new software programs. Even Bitcoin’s blockchain is going to be well represented in these BaaS templates.
"We do support Bitcoin and it is the most important Blockchain for cryptocurrency. BaaS is about using Blockchain (distributed ledger) technology and value added services for other purposes. There is a whole ecosystem springing up around cryptoapps."
On average, Microsoft says, over 10,000 new customers sign up for Azure every week. With so many customers able to deploy their own blockchain so effortlessly, the entire finance world could quickly and easily have their own blockchain-based upgrade in the next couple of years.