Blockchain-as-a-service (BaaS) adds value to businesses by giving them a fast, easy way to spin off new blockchain networks and take advantage of cloud managed services. Microsoft’s Azure BaaS powered many decentralized applications and gave birth to promising blockchain startups. Now that it’s shutting down, a smooth migration is what’s on the mind of most dApp owners.
Originally developed to provide infrastructure for Bitcoin, modern blockchain technologies go beyond cryptocurrency and support complex applications across the whole landscape of industries, from finance and supply chain to energy, healthcare, retail and many more. Companies have long noticed the security advantages of blockchains, and many are seeking possibilities to build private or semi-public networks to support their operations.
Cloud systems such as Microsoft Azure Blockchain Service provide the development tools and managed services to forge and maintain corporate networks, as well as support a variety of dApps for business use. They allow you to assemble blockchain infrastructure in a few clicks, enable easy governance, and equip owners with monitoring tools to keep track of performance and ledger data.
Unfortunately, Microsoft announced that it’s shutting down Azure blockchain-as-a-service in September 2021. We decided to provide an overview of the retiring service and guide existing projects to a smooth transition to another cloud-based platform or self-managed infrastructure.
Continue reading to learn more about Microsoft Azure Blockchain Service and find our migration tips for businesses.
What is Azure Blockchain Service?
Microsoft Azure Blockchain Service is a BaaS platform that automates many aspects of blockchain networks through ready configuration options. It allows blockchain platforms to be built and maintained easily and effortlessly.
Azure Blockchain reduces initial costs related to both the setup of the blockchain network and its maintenance. These cost benefits often outweigh traditional solutions.
The platform also offers easy integration with third-party blockchain services. Additional services, built for the blockchain networks by the Microsoft Blockchain partners, are easily accessible through Azure Marketplace.
History and availability
Microsoft Azure, which offers a suite of cloud services, has been around since 2010. It provides a wide variety of services that are not exclusively related to the blockchain: examples include database products, virtual machines, and web hosting platforms.
In 2015 Azure began enlisting several blockchain platforms on the Azure marketplace, allowing clients to instantly launch the likes of Ethereum, Hyperledger Fabric, and Corda. The Marketplace also includes multiple tools for the design and maintenance of blockchain networks.
In May 2018 Microsoft introduced Azure Blockchain Service to the Marketplace. This service allows customers to quickly deploy a blockchain network, create or join consortiums, add members to the consortiums, and deploy blockchain applications at scale.
Microsoft has decided to retire its Azure Blockchain Service in September 2021.
Networks supported by the Azure Blockchain
Azure Blockchain Service supports numerous blockchain network types such as Quorum Ledger, Ethereum, Hyperledger Fabric, and Corda.
When used as a part of Azure Blockchain Service, these networks need very little administration from the customer side. What’s more, they are provided at no additional cost.
With no need for active management, customers can focus on application development and the implementation of business logic on top of the blockchain. In addition, application developers can make use of many of the open-source tools and platforms available on the market.
Azure Blockchain Service features
Azure Blockchain Service is a managed ledger service that enables users to launch and operate blockchain networks at scale using managed Azure infrastructure. Users are given the power of unified control over both the infrastructure and the networks that they provide.
In addition to simplified network deployment and operations, Azure Blockchain Service offers many other useful features related to performance, service, maintenance, security, monitoring, logging, and consortium management.
Deployment and operations
The development of networks on the Azure Blockchain Service is primarily done using three tools: Azure CLI, Visual Studio Code, and the Azure portal that has built-in assistance for blockchain. Blockchain network deployment is straightforward.
The service includes the deployment of both the validator and transaction nodes. In addition, there are virtual networks for service-managed storage and security isolation. When a new member of the network is deployed, users can choose to join or create a consortium.
The consortiums enable various parties to communicate securely and share data using the blockchain infrastructure and all its underlying advantages. With the Azure Blockchain Service, the deployments and provisioning of the blockchain network can be done in just a few minutes, unlike the traditional, non-BaaS methods which took days.
Performance and service
Azure Blockchain Service offers basic and standard tiers. The tiers offer different performance, storage, and support capabilities. The basic tier is usually recommended for proof of concept deployments and testing purposes. The standard tier, meanwhile, is recommended for production-grade deployments.
The standard tier also offers better compute infrastructure. While both tiers include at least one transaction node, the standard tier includes two validator nodes. Basic tier availability is not guaranteed, but standard tier service will be available for over 99.99% of the time.
Maintenance and security
Once the initial blockchain network member is set up on Azure Blockchain Service, it can be joined by additional transaction nodes. The transaction nodes are secured through firewall rules and need to be configured for access.
All transaction nodes encrypt the data using TLS (Transport Layer Security). Many other security schemes are involved when securing transaction node access, such as basic authentication, access keys, and Azure Active Directory integration.
Azure Blockchain Service makes sure all of the member nodes continue to host the latest security mechanisms through automatic updates. Besides the security updates, the nodes always host the latest updates of the operating system and ledger software stacks. The managed service requires very little DevOps activity, compared to traditional IaaS blockchain nodes.
Monitoring and logging
Azure Blockchain Service works alongside Azure Monitor Service, which uses multiple system metrics to provide insights into the status of infrastructure and application resources. Azure Blockchain Service allows monitoring the CPU, memory, and storage utilization of any node in the network.
In addition, the monitoring feature gives valuable insights into other node statistics such as the transactions and blocks mined, transaction queue depth, and active connections. Azure gives the user control over the customization of the monitoring views, according to their priorities.
What’s more, the system is capable of alerting users via email or push notification as well as triggering other integrated components when the defined metric threshold value is passed.
A consortium is a group consisting of network members who share some bounded logic and transact in a multi-party process. In Azure Blockchain Service the consortiums are managed through predefined smart contracts that determine what actions members in the consortium are allowed to take. The governance rules are imposed by the administrator of the consortium. Joining the consortium is allowed only by invitation. Consortium management is done programmatically.
Azure Blockchain Workbench
Azure Blockchain Workbench is a set of Azure services and tools put together by Microsoft to offer users the fastest way to start blockchain development. The Workbench provides the necessary infrastructure for building and deploying blockchain applications, enabling data and process sharing between multiple businesses securely and reliably.
Thanks to the managed nature of applications built with Azure Blockchain Workbench, the app developers can focus solely on creating business logic and the provision of smart contracts. The Workbench also helps developers to easily automate common development tasks.
The primary function of the Azure Blockchain Workbench is to serve as a suite for the simple creation of blockchain applications. Users of Blockchain Workbench can define blockchain applications through configuration and by writing smart contract code.
Created blockchain applications and users can be effectively managed using the Workbench, as it provides a web application and REST APIs for management. The administrators manage application access and can assign user roles.
The Blockchain Workbench offers a set of interfaces that simplify the integration of blockchain applications with multiple distributed ledger technologies, storage services, and database offerings. At the same time, Azure Blockchain Workbench simplifies the setup of consortium blockchain networks with Azure Resource Manager templates. In this way, the application and all other components necessary for building the consortium can be easily deployed.
Azure Blockchain Workbench enables the use of Windows Active Directory that further abstracts the blockchain identities (normally represented as the addresses in the network), making it simpler to build enterprise applications.
Azure Blockchain Development Kit
Azure Blockchain Development Kit offers tools and templates for the development of blockchain solutions and for their integration with the rest of the Azure infrastructure. It provides a large number of examples and templates, making for a flat learning curve.
The Azure Blockchain Development Kit also enables the integration of DevOps environments into the development of blockchain solutions. To use the examples and templates from the Azure Blockchain Development Kit effectively, Azure Blockchain Workbench should also be used in parallel.
The Azure Blockchain Development Kit contains various examples and templates that can be used to integrate voice assistants such as Cortana, Alexa, and Google Assistant. The support is not limited to just Microsoft Azure.
The development kit connects various data producers and consumers on the blockchain. It also integrates legacy tools, systems, and protocols, provides comprehensive examples and solutions, and incorporates traditional DevOps practices into a distributed application environment.
Using the templates and examples, various data sources and applications are connected with the blockchain technologies. This includes cloud and data storage, SQL databases, and e-mail services.
There are templates intended to help speed up the implementation of blockchain architecture. Some examples also provide guidance on using blockchain solutions with specific Azure cloud services. The dev kit also includes tools and guides for DevOps practices in blockchain environments, especially focusing on the development and management of smart contracts.
Successful Azure Blockchain use cases
The blockchain networks built on top of the Azure services are simple to design and operate. The solutions can be developed for a fraction of the cost of the traditional model, and much faster too. These advantages make it attractive for companies looking to quickly and painlessly pilot their solutions.
Now we’ll look at some of the successful use cases featuring Azure’s blockchain-as-a-service.
GE Aviation is always on the look-out for better ways to track the provenance of the parts being used in the airplanes. These efforts eliminate the chances of operational errors in airplane systems and ensure the safety of millions of passengers every year.
GE Aviation’s Digital Group uses Microsoft Azure Blockchain Service to track the lifecycle of each part used in the construction of airplanes. The blockchain-based solution replaces the traditional paper-based process that was cumbersome and inefficient.
Besides the blockchain technology, GE is taking advantage of additional Azure services to create a scalable and automated solution for real-time tracking of the parts.
Starbucks is known for using numerous modern technologies to give their customers a better coffee experience, as well as to improve their internal business processes and empower suppliers and farmers.
One of their latest efforts in these areas is the use of blockchain technology to track the journey of the coffee beans from the farmer to the customer’s cup. The whole journey is displayed as a feature on the mobile app.
Customers can see information about where their coffee comes from, where it was grown, and where and when it was roasted. They can also read tasting notes and learn about Starbucks’ efforts to support farmers.
In addition to letting their customers know more about their coffee beans, this digital and real-time traceability will empower coffee farmers to know where their beans end up after they sell them. The solution is built using Azure Blockchain Service as well as other Azure services.
Insurwave is an expert in specialty insurance. The company uses a distributed shared ledger to reduce risk and disclosure for insurance customers, brokers and other interested parties.
Ernst & Young recently partnered with Insurewave on a quest to tackle one of the toughest insurance problems of the 21st century — marine insurance. The company uses blockchain as part of the solution due to its transparency, immutability, and security advantages.
Insurwave’s platform was created out of collaboration between Ernst & Young, Guardtime, A.P. Moller-Maersk, and R3. The world’s largest marine insurance solution is powered by Microsoft Azure Blockchain Service, delivering a safeguarded, distributed database that connects everyone in a value chain.
Bühler is one of the largest grain processing providers. Over 65% of the world’s grain goes through Brühler food processing machines, which provide healthy food for billions of people.
The company has recently launched its secure and reliable cloud-based digital services for the food processing industry, called Bühler Insights. As a part of that offering, the MoisturePro solution can reduce energy consumption for industrial drying processes and save customers hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
The Bühler Insights platform makes use of various Azure services including AI, Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities, and blockchain. All aimed at guaranteeing food safety, traceability, transparency, and data intelligence.
Bühler taps into Microsoft Azure Blockchain Workbench to digitize a paper-based and manual process related to grain transportation. This is the first time blockchain was used for tracking grain and maize.
With the digitalization of the food safety process, Bühler ensures that every participant in the supply chain, from farmers to shopkeepers, has access to the digital verification of the food journey, thereby avoiding the risk of tampering or contamination.
Singapore Airlines is well known for its customer relationship efforts. As a part of one such endeavor, Singapore Airlines utilizes Microsoft Azure Blockchain Service to deliver an innovative loyalty program.
The company makes use of blockchain’s unique advantages to allow their customers to earn loyalty points. The solution helps the company gain a more profound understanding of their customers.
Together with their technology partner, KPMG Digital Village, Singapore Airlines has built a shared and highly secure ledger for storing loyalty program transactions. Other Azure services are likewise put to use and expand the blockchain’s capabilities, letting users interact with the ledger, and synchronize with other services operating off-chain.
Australia-based Webjet has been a pioneer in the online travel space since 1998. The company has been steadily working towards the simplification and unbundling of the online processes related to traveling.
In 2013 the company started its B2B division for hotel booking called WebBeds. By using blockchain on Azure, the company has built a completely novel booking reconciliation service for hotel reservations.
Hotel booking is generally a complex and decentralized process, with millions of transactions taking place across many different systems. Webjet uses blockchain technology to provide a single source of truth for buyers and sellers in the hotel marketplace. Thanks to the blockchain solution, Webjet has achieved a 90% reduction in losses associated with transaction disputes.
3M products are so ubiquitous that you are rarely ever a couple of meters away from their products. 3M is an expert in labels and materials, and sells over 50.000 products. Since 2017 the company has been exploring digital services in order to add value for its customers.
One of their main goals was to prevent tampering in the supply chain. The company has come up with some industry-leading ideas on creating non-electronic, tamper-evident labels. 3M combines physical labels with digital processes in their label-as-a-service platform that secures supply chains.
3M uses Microsoft Azure blockchain to implement a shared data layer among the participants of the supply chain. Blockchain tools allow it to support secure transactions. In the backend, the solution is connected to an SQL database for storage, offering interoperability with tools for advanced data processing.
Members of the blockchain-based supply chain consortium can trace every step and interaction. Finding relevant information such as the location of the products, what is happening to them, and who is supervising them has become so much easier thanks to the solution.
Nasdaq is one of the leading innovators in financial markets. Back in 1971, they launched the world’s first electronic stock exchange. That was very advanced technology for the time. Today Nasdaq continues its innovations with blockchain technology.
It uses blockchain as umbrella technology to manage transaction flows, payments, and billing from multiple blockchains and payment mechanisms. At the core of Nasdaq’s digital operations sits the Nasdaq Financial Framework (NFF), a modular digital powerhouse that enables a vast number of business applications and services across the trading lifecycle.
NFF takes advantage of many modern technologies such as cloud, blockchain, and AI. Nasdaq uses Azure Blockchain to build its blockchain capabilities in order to support a multi-ledger strategy.
Microsoft uses its blockchain technology to streamline operations across many industries. In the case of Xbox, the Azure Blockchain service is used to provide royalties for Xbox game publishers, attributing and transferring them in a matter of minutes. The royalty distribution is done in real-time, automating one of the brand’s most critical elements.
The immutable digital ledger provides a tamper-proof transaction record that enhances transparency and user experience. The blockchain solution simplifies complex royalty agreements by making use of smart contracts that self-execute after the transaction is carried out. The integrated logic lets people receive payments fairly and transparently.
Azure Blockchain Service shutdown and migration
Microsoft recently announced that they will be shutting down the Azure Blockchain Service on September 10, 2021. All existing deployments are expected to be supported until then. The shutdown applies only to the Azure Blockchain Service. Microsoft Azure Blockchain Workbench will continue operating.
For companies that are in the pilot or production stages, Microsoft advises two options.
The first is pivoting to the Quorum Blockchain Service, managed by ConsenSys. The service supports Quorum as ledger technology. This alternative has even fewer management overheads than the Azure Blockchain Service. Microsoft highly recommends migration of the existing data onto Quorum Blockchain Service with ConsenSys’ help.
The second option is to have an Azure VM-based deployment. For this purpose, customers can turn to several blockchain resource management templates to deploy blockchain on IaaS VMs. Customers can continue using Quorum’s ledger technology. As an alternative, they can transition to a self-managed infrastructure and blockchain stack using Azure’s virtual machines.
The migration of the production workload should be done by first downloading the blockchain data and then transitioning this data to the preferred alternative. Although the process sounds simple, it is more complicated than designing the blockchain from the ground up. For this reason, the advice is to seek assistance from companies that have previous experience and expertise in migrating blockchains.
Azure’s BaaS service was a great solution that allowed its users to quickly deploy a blockchain network, create or join consortiums, add members to the consortiums, and deploy blockchain applications at scale. Unfortunately, Microsoft decided to retire the Azure Blockchain Service in September 2021 forcing many companies to look into migrating their projects.
Migration can pose many challenges and entail high expenses because of the technical complexity associated with deploying and maintaining these types of solutions. A good idea is to turn to an experienced blockchain development company focusing on delivering end-to-end blockchain platforms. With a well-versed team of engineers, they can help with migration of your Azure BaaS project to any other platform.