Microsoft's Project Bletchley will let companies add middleware to blockchains

New "Cryptlets" make it possible to pull cloud information into secure blockchains

Microsoft is extending blockchain technology with a new set of tools designed to make it possible to build a new ecosystem of enterprise applications on top of it.

On Wednesday, the company unveiled Project Bletchley, its term for a pair of tools to expand the potential uses of blockchains. It plans to get more utility out of the distributed ledger technology by using the new secure middleware.

The first tool, known as "Cryptlets," is a set of services that let companies bring in data from outside a blockchain system without breaking the security of that system. Cryptlets can be written in any programming language and run within a secure, trusted container.

That leads to a second set of middleware tools that companies can use to add services that aren't natively available in a blockchain. This middleware can be integrated with a blockchain using Cryptlets. Microsoft has added several native middleware services to Bletchley, including including identity and encryption services.

It's all part of a push by Microsoft to be one of the leading providers of blockchain services to companies that are trying to get started with this burgeoning technology. By providing this middleware tier, Microsoft may make the blockchain more useful for business customers.

Marley Gray, Microsoft's director of blockchain business development and strategy, who wrote a whitepaper on Project Bletchley, said in an interview that the new tools are similar to how computing evolved after the introduction of the Internet. In the same way companies added middleware to deal with the shortcomings of client-server architecture, blockchain middleware will lead to more powerful applications, he said.

If blockchain applications are the future of business, Microsoft could be on the cutting edge of a major market opportunity. Its blockchain push has already picked up serious steam. The company has already partnered with the R3 CEV, a consortium of more than 40 banks, to use its blockchain-as-a-service offering. 

The Cryptlets and middleware have the added benefit of being available for use with a variety of programming languages and cloud platforms. In the future, companies should be able to operate their own Cryptlets from an on-premises datacenter using Azure Stack, rather than having to rely on Microsoft's public cloud.   

Companies can use Cryptlets and blockchain middleware regardless of the underlying blockchain platform they've decided to use. Businesses will have the easiest time implementing Cryptlets with blockchains like Ethereum that support Smart Contracts, but Microsoft's tools will be agnostic about what they're connecting to, Gray said.

It's still early days for Project Bletchley. In a blog post, Gray said Microsoft will reveal more about its plans at its Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto next month. 

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Blair Hanley Frank

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