Microsoft's efforts to attract startups to its months-old, blockchain-as-a-service cloud platform appears to be paying off.
Based on the Bitcoin cryptocurrency, blockchain is a distributed-database technology with transaction tracking and verification capabilities that are hardened against tampering. In his sixth update on the progress of Azure Blockchain-as-a-Service, Marley Gray, director of business development and strategy for Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise unit, announced that five new partners had joined the ecosystem.
Among them is BitShares, an open-source, decentralized asset exchange software platform for the SmartCoin cryptocurrency. "A SmartCoin is [a] price-stable digital asset pegged to the value of various currencies, commodities, stocks and other financial instruments within a derivatives market," explained Gray. Pricing information is derived from world financial markets and then published to the exchange.
In search of innovations that may power next-generation exchanges and banking services, Wall Street and financial technology (FinTech) firms have been keeping a close eye on the burgeoning blockchain market. A recent report from Deloitte identified blockchain as one of the disruptive forces to affect the banking industry over the next several years.
Deloitte predicts that by 2025, blockchain-based payment systems will rival the Automated Clearing House (ACH) network in terms of scale. The consulting company also expects digital currencies to become mainstream and direct payments to become more commonplace. (Another blockchain perk is that it can potentially supplant the clearing house model for many financial transactions, essentially eliminating the middleman and reducing fees.)
Slock.it, another IoT-friendly blockchain technology, provides security, identity, privacy and coordination services to wide-scale device deployments. Envisioned as "collaborative economy" technology, Slock.it allows objects to be securely sold, rented or shared without a brokering agent.
Syscoin is a collection of blockchain-based services for merchants, including escrow, encrypted messaging, digital asset storage and other buying and selling services. The project's aim is to eventually integrate with major e-commerce platforms. Rounding out the group of Azure Blockchain newcomers is Augur, an Ethereum blockchain-based decentralized prediction market platform. Currently in beta, Augur enables businesses to generate precise forecasts on any topic.
Microsoft isn't the only tech titan that is courting blockchain innovators.
Last month, Big Blue announced new blockchain services on IBM Cloud and open-source community outreach efforts to help advance blockchain in the enterprise. It's a move that could help IBM move more product if and when banks dive into block-chain based transactions.
"Blockchain is moving into banks and is processor-intensive and should lend itself to both IBM hardware and their tight relationship with banks—this is likely why IBM is getting behind this technology," Rob Enderle, founder of the Enderle Group, recently told eWEEK's Darryl K. Taft. "Once blessed by banks, it created an additional competitive exposure particularly if it remains optimized for x86 platforms, and IBM wants to make sure that doesn't happen."