Three years ago, Microsoft Azure was the first to bring blockchain to the cloud. Now it is connecting technology to almost everything else.
The software giant has quietly built bridges between its blockchain services and other widely used infrastructure and platforms, such as Office 365 Outlook, SharePoint Online, Salesforce, Dynamics 365 CRM Online, SAP and even Twitter, according to Matt Kerner, general manager of Microsoft Azure. The idea is to allow Microsoft customers to transfer their data from these platforms to the cloud and from there to a blockchain.
Why? In addition to the generally publicized blockchain efficiencies, one of the least discussed advantages of distributed ledger technology (DLT) in a cloud environment like Azure, according to Microsoft, is that it accumulates data from multiple companies in a standardized, large-scale format. The potential to extract data for all types of information thus becomes unlimited, the company calculates.
So, the company is integrating tools like Microsoft Flow and Logic Apps – which offer hundreds of connectors to thousands of applications – in Azure Blockchain Workbench, a service launched in May to simplify the creation of blockchain apps (currently Workbench has the proof of ethereum as a consent protocol).
It's all part of the evolution of Big Data, Kerner explained. Prior to the blockchain, he underlined, the cloud computing departments enabled by the same company to break their data silos and collaborate on heterogeneous data sets, increasing intelligence through automatic learning ( ML) and artificial intelligence (AI).
"Blockchain authorizes the next step, allowing a single set of authentic data shared between counterparts, improving the way that transactions occur," Kerner told CoinDesk, adding: "We believe that the same will be true with data analysis. "
Taking a step back, many argue that data is now the most precious natural resource on the planet. While the race to demonstrate the best data analysis intensifies, companies are emerging whose sole purpose is to structure and format data to execute AI algorithms.
But with the corporate blockchain, you get the part of structured and formatted data launched for free, as Kerner said that many Azure customers were discovering.
"What blockchain is doing is creating a multiparty business process that is moving from e-mails, phone calls, spreadsheets and into one system with a single view of data on which all participants can rely on and trust, "he said.  Looking ahead, Kerner said that bringing large amounts of unstructured data and data into a context in which it could be exploited and even shared would lead to exponential changes. He said:
"Even the fiercest of competitors can on board take advantage of that system and find new revenue streams."
Assumption of IBM
A good example of connecting and balancing Azure components in a large and complex production environment is Insurwave, which simplifies maritime insurance for shipping by Maersk .
The platform was built using the R3 Rope platform with the help of EY and Guardtime and is now in commercial production with insurers such as Willis Towers Watson, XL Catlin and MS Amlin.
Insurwave, which tracks loads and regulates insurance premiums in real time, collects all types of data, all from the Internet of object sensors (IoT) that monitor the temperature , the possibility that the ship will hit a storm, or enter a war zone or a heavily populated area of pirates. Once these data have been shared on the blockchain, Power BI, a Microsoft business analytics tool, can be used to obtain information on shipping, said Kerner.
In addition, Ricardo Correia, a managing director and head of R3 partner management, said that his relationship with Microsoft is much more than Azure's preferred default cloud of Rope.
In addition to a one-click chord ability, Correia emphasized the integration of Corda into modules within the Azure marketplace.
"This allows Corda to connect to a number of different features including Azure SQL, the active identity management and key management directory for key management." He said.
Some of these features are already available due to Insurwave, with a deeper integration that also occurs in numerous cases of use. Among the most important is the blockchain webJet, which aims to reconcile hotels and other modes of travel on a single ledger, and was cited by CTO Richard Brown of R3 as an example of Corda that extends beyond traditional finance.
Expanding the goal, keeping track of objects in real time, and sharing things like IoT data using a blockchain has made global trade and supply chain a light leader in terms of domains to be chased. From a strategic point of view, Insurwave challenges IBM's offer for global business domination, which also has Maersk in the flagship position, so to speak.
IBM has openly stated that this was his No. 1 target. However, Correia said that Microsoft is also making its mark in the supply chain, perhaps with a little less fanfare. "It is in their interest because they too have very large supply chains with a number of their product offerings," he said.
In terms of blockchain offerings as a service, IBM has sponsored Hyperledger Composer in the last two years. However, there may be some question marks on Composer design, at least from an IBM perspective.
Azure's Kerner was clearly equivocal about Microsoft's blockchain enterprise competitors, adding that everything was built with the goal of allowing a consortium that is not exclusively on Azure.
"It must be open: any significant consortium will have members who have different choices they have made around their cloud service provider and who they choose to work with," he said.
Microsoft image through Shutterstock.