BlockApps, a Microsoft affiliate designed to provide an enterprise block chain toolkit to help businesses develop new functionalities, brings to mind the role that Oracle plays in the future of decentralized databases, according to Victor Wong, BlockApps CEO.
In an interview with International Business Times, Wong cited Oracle’s role as a database provider as a parallel to BlockApp’s role providing tools such as smart contracts for businesses to use to create new functionalities.
Microsoft partnered with an Ethereum-based startup, ConsenSys, to deliver block chain as an enterprise solution for clients of its cloud-based Azure service, as reported by CCN in the past. ConsenSys is an Ethereum-coder collective that will allow enterprise users on Azure to access Ethereum Blockchain-as-a-Service (E BaaS).
Microsoft believes the new technology will help financial institutions experiment with block chain technology on its Azure platform.
BlockApps is essentially a private block chain “sandbox” where developers can experiment with applications before releasing them into the Ethereum block chain or elsewhere.
STRATO, BlockApps’ flagship, provides a block chain ledger that runs smart contracts that can be customized for environments where scalability and privacy are critical. The STRATO toolkit is part of Microsoft’s block-chain-as-a-service for customers on the Azure cloud service.
In reporting Wong’s comparison between BlockApps and Oracle, International Business Times noted that it has reached out in the past to Oracle to get its take on distributed ledger systems, but got no input. Oracle getting into block chains is like an oil company getting into electric cars, bitcoin hardliners have noted.
Block chain systems have to interoperate with existing ones, Wong said. This holds true for Microsoft Azure, Oracle databases or any existing infrastructure.
STRATO, for its part, is built in Haskell, the programming language that has a finance track record and is embedded in big banks’ trading operations. BlockApps has come “full circle” in a sense as Microsoft cradled Haskell for 20 years and incubated most of its compiler work.
Building block chains provided a good use case for showing off Haskell’s benefits, added James Hormuzdiar, BlockApps chief technology officer. He said the specification is executable but statistically verifiable; if it compiles, it is correct. It also scales well and has proven itself in mission critical financial applications.
The Ethereum block-chain-as-a-service toolkit offers an easy beginning point to work with smart contracts and block chain applications, Hormuzdiar said. Once an application has been built, STRATO scales seamlessly from multi-mode test networks to production deployments.
The architecture enables the separation of block chain applications into two layers. One layer is the application layer and the other is the block chain layer.
Once an application is written on the block chain sandbox, it is portable and can move to other STRATO block chain networks, size notwithstanding, Hormuzdiar said. It writes once, then deploys on any block chain solution.
Wong, Hormuzdiar and Kieren James-Lubin, BlockApps chief data scientist, began BlockApps as they sought to build apps on Ethereum. They joined ConsenSys, the Ethereum design studio, in April 2015. They were trying to determine how to build things on Ethereum when they realized someone needed to make the technology usable for ordinary developers.
They wanted people to realize that the technology, once you start using it, opens your mind to possibilities. For the last few months, they have done hackathons and small projects.
In the enterprise realm, Wong expected the format in the beginning would be enterprises enacting their own block chains mainly as systems to allow efficiencies across various branches. As the process evolves, the block chains communicate with one another and might do so directly or through a public block chain like Ethereum, he said.
The real value of the technology, according to Wong, is back office automation and evading regulation by high-cost compliance officers. At the present time, compliance consumes a lot of wasted effort. An Ethereum-like block chain can embed rules into the system. There is no need to add extra layers and auditing tracking.
Asked who would be the user of smart contracts, Wong said companies of all sizes will be interested in shortening a process from days into minutes. The first implementation will likely be invisible to consumers, but they will benefit from the cost savings.
James-Lubin offered the example of a freelance worker who uses websites and automatically generates contractual agreements that can be signed and sent to lawyers. A contract could actually enforce an agreement, he noted. A third party might be needed to decide if the work is good enough. There may also be a need for third-party escrow.
When interfacing with the outside world, something called an oracle that sends data into the contract and indicates an action is taking place could be needed.
Trust needs to be built within systems to indicate smart contracts are more efficient, Wong noted. This will take time, however. He compared it to a rocket ship taking off.
Images from Shutterstock and BlockApps.