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Simplifying blockchain app development with Azure Blockchain Workbench

Posted on May 7, 2018

General Manager, Microsoft Azure

This week, developers from around the world join us at our annual Microsoft Build conference to hear about the latest in technology innovation. Blockchain remains a key topic of interest.

Over the past 18 months, thousands of customers have experimented with the blockchain templates and developer tooling available on our Azure Marketplace to begin their blockchain journeys. Businesses across industries have built a variety of applications to address needs ranging from pharmaceutical counterfeiting and travel booking reconciliation, to the creation of digital domestic currencies. While the use cases are diverse, the challenges for customers just beginning their journey have been the same – bespoke applications are costly and time consuming to develop and notoriously difficult to integrate.

Skip the scaffolding

Today, we’re excited to announce the public preview release of Azure Blockchain Workbench, a new offering that can reduce application development time from months to days. Workbench gets customers started quickly by automating infrastructure setup, so developers can focus on application logic, and business owners can focus on defining and validating their use cases.

Businesses using Workbench can provision the scaffolding for an end-to-end blockchain application with just a few simple clicks. Using Azure Resource Manager (ARM) templates, Workbench not only automates ledger deployment and network construction, but also integrates the blockchain network with the Azure services needed to build a functioning application. With Workbench users can quickly:

  • Associate blockchain identities with federated identity systems through Azure Active Directory for single sign-on, and for simplified consortium identity management.
  • Store secrets and keys securely with Azure Key Vault.
  • Ingest and manage the events required to trigger smart contracts using Service Bus and Event Grid.
  • Use the included signing, hashing and routing tools to transform messages into the format expected by the blockchain’s native API.
  • Synchronize on-chain data with off-chain storage and databases to more easily generate business insights from ledger data.
  • Easily integrate blockchain workflows with existing systems and applications using tools like Logic Apps.
  • Extend capabilities with a REST-based API for client development and a message-based API for system-to-system integration.

Workbench dramatically reduces development costs and accelerates time to value for developers, independent software vendors and integration partners alike.  Workbench’s dynamically generated UI automatically adjusts to changes in workflow definitions, and Workbench includes sample workflows and an admin experience for workflow and user provisioning. These features mean that users can rapidly create and iterate on multiparty workflows with minimal coding.

Early traction

Engagement in our preview program has been overwhelming. Since September, hundreds of customers and partners have joined the preview and used Workbench to create innovative solutions to shared business problems.

In Israel, Bank Hapoalim is using Workbench to build a solution that simplifies the time consuming, manual processes required to issue bank guarantees for large purchases like real estate.

In Italy, Nestle has teamed up with Microsoft Digital to pilot an IoT-enabled solution that tracks the movement of its famous and delicious Bacio Perugina chocolate along the supply chain.

And in the US, Apttus is using Workbench to help banks and asset managers quickly build and deploy smart contracts to secure, track and adjust to changes in the loans that are securitized and pooled for collateralized debt instruments, protecting against risks that contributed to the 2008 financial crisis.

Business leaders are also looking to our partners to help them build these applications. Companies like Quisitive, Macaw and Cegeka have built blockchain centers of excellence using Workbench to help customers ideate on blockchain applications in their business. Workbench frees up these partners to move beyond infrastructure and deliver differentiated, high-value service to their clients.

The road ahead

Getting started with blockchain should not be overwhelming and simplifying development is a huge opportunity. My team remains laser focused on making blockchain more enterprise friendly - including providing strong documentation and samples for developers to use to get up and running quickly.

Microsoft is clear eyed about the challenges facing customers beginning their blockchain journeys. We believe the best way to address design and integration challenges is with an open platform and set of tools that lowers the barrier to experimentation. The Azure Marketplace features over 40 app accelerators, developer tools, and network deployment templates and has become an open hub for developers to not only access relevant tools and resources, but also to publish their own templates.

With the release of Azure Blockchain Workbench, we take another step towards making this technology more developer friendly. As we continue to learn with customers and partners, we look forward to extending its capabilities, open-sourcing more of its code and partnering with organizations to expand its usefulness.

We look forward to connecting with you this week at Build and next week at NY Blockchain Week.  I hope you’ll share your scenarios and objectives with us, so together we can build the future of blockchain in the enterprise.