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Microsoft has added a shiny new component called Azure Blockchain Workbench to their versatile set of cloud services. It is an abstraction layer in Azure that simplifies the creation of blockchain-based apps and smart contracts. People in the tech world are already familiar with Azure, the cloud computing service that lets developers build, test, and deploy applications through a network of Microsoft-managed servers. The Azure Blockchain Workbench is, however, the new kid on the block. This article discusses the technical details of the functionality offered by Azure Blockchain Workbench, however, if you want to learn the nitty-gritty details of developing blockchain-based applications you can sign up for Azure training courses such as Developing Azure solutions and Azure fundamentals.
Azure Blockchain Workbench was created to simplify the creation of blockchain applications and allow enterprises to take advantage of the security offered by cryptographically immutable ledgers. This tool abstracts away under-the-hood details involved in developing, deploying, and maintain blockchain applications. Now developers can focus on what is important, the business logic and defining smart contracts because Azure Blockchain Workbench takes care of the underlying scaffolding.
Azure Blockchain Workbench has a robust underlying architecture that makes it easy to develop and integrate blockchain applications into current technology ecosystems.
Here are ten basic features that make this tool flexible and simple to use.
User identities in blockchain protocols are represented as an address, usually a multi-character hash. With hundreds of users, it becomes difficult to identify which address belongs to whom. In Azure Blockchain Workbench this complication is removed by associating blockchain network addresses with an Azure Active Directory identity. This means enterprise applications can utilize user-friendly identities instead of a lengthy hash string. Any device connected to a smart contract also becomes a part of Azure AD.
Workbench has the ability to automatically generate iOS and Android mobile apps as well as web applications. These applications can be used to test and view the blockchain-based applications. The user interface of these auto-generated apps is determined by the smart contract metadata and is flexible enough to accommodate all use cases. App users are authenticated via Azure AD and once access is granted the user enters a customized interface. This interface is dynamically generated depending on the business context. If the context permits, certain transactions are also presented to the user.
Setting up a consortium blockchain-based network is a simple task with Workbench. The Azure Resource Manager contains a solution template that is basically a preconfigured solution. The template creates the network and also deploys all the necessary components to get the consortium up and running. The only blockchain technology currently supported by Azure is Ethereum.
Blockchain applications can’t exist in a vacuum, they need to be integrated with your existing business applications. Workbench provides message-based APIs as well as REST APIs to allow easy integration. These APIs can interface with multiple storage types, database, and distributed ledger technologies (DLT). The message-based API reads messages and transforms them into a blockchain-friendly format that can be recorded as transactions in the ledger.
Blockchain Workbench has an Azure SQL database attached that contains an off-chain copy of all the data stored in the blockchain. Along with this, the database also houses metadata, smart contract definitions, and configuration settings. This off-chain database can be queried using traditional SQL so there is no need to bother with blockchain-based queries. Developers and users can utilize this data for analytics, reporting, visualizing, or any other data-driven tasks. Microsoft’s Power BI is also an option if you want to visualize data. Other non-blockchain apps can also interact with this database.
Application Insights is a logging tool that monitors all blockchain applications created within Workbench. It can be used to monitor applications in real time and also helps diagnose performance issues. All data about successful operations, warnings, and errors are tracked and logged. The main purpose of such extensive logging is to facilitate debugging and resolve issues. This tool also comes with powerful analytics features that help you understand how users interact with the blockchain application. Such detailed tracking can be used to improve usability and tweak user experience.
Azure Monitor collects data that reflects the overall health of your blockchain network. The data collected fits into two categories, logs, and metrics. Logs may contain a wide variety of data organized into different records and each record can have unique properties. Metrics are usually numbers that measure some characteristic of a system recorded at a specific point in time. Other data such as traces and events are stored in the form of logs, which can be combined with performance metrics for analysis.
Microsoft opted to add Ethereum as the Proof-of-Work solution in Azure. Workbench also supports Ethereum as the de facto blockchain method. This allows developers to create a cloud-based blockchain application with a single click.
Blockchain Workbench stores all events and associated data in an off-chain storage (Azure SQL Server) for easier analysis. Developers can easily pull up off-chain data for trend analysis or visualization. This feature allows people without any blockchain expertise to easily view and analyze blockchain-based data.
Multiple users will be accessing information and interacting with your blockchain application. Blockchain Workbench’s REST APIs can be used to manage users. Administrators can assign different roles to users and limit access according to the business logic of the application. If a user is added to the application, their Azure AD is automatically mapped to this role.
Azure is a powerful technology that is quickly being adopted by enterprises. According to RightScale 2018 State of Cloud Report, adoption rates for Azure jumped from 43 percent in 2017 to 58 percent in 2018. Overall cloud adoption rates increased from 89 percent in 2017 to 92 percent in the current year. As this technology gains traction, the need for expert cloud developers keeps growing. Leverage the power of Azure certification and level up your IT career. Get in touch with one of our Azure experts today, to know more.
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