Azure Blockchain Workbench

Author by Mark Rentmeester

Bitcoin prices may be falling, but blockchain is on the rise. The general public associates blockchain with cryptocurrencies, but business leaders are focused on blockchain for much different reasons. Blockchain’s secure, shared, distributed ledger creates opportunities for businesses to:
  • Create new revenue streams from current products and underutilized assets
  • Remedy customer pain; improve customer service
  • Meet increased demand/scale
  • Improve operational efficiencies 
  • Improve competitive positions
  • Find new market opportunities; drive business expansion
     
For all of these, the first big question is “how to get started?” In this first blog post in a new series on blockchain topics, I’ll touch on key points relating to Microsoft Azure Blockchain Workbench.

Concurrency has been working with Azure Workbench since the App Builder private preview release in 2017. We use Workbench as a tool to quickly frame out blockchain scenarios for smart contract development and testing. Concurrency projects to date include blockchain use-cases for clients in supply chain, healthcare and energy industries.

In our work with clients, we use Azure Blockchain Workbench as a tool to quickly frame out blockchain scenarios for smart contract development and testing.
 
About Microsoft Azure Blockchain Workbench
Azure Blockchain Workbench, which is currently in Preview mode, is a framework and accelerator for implementing blockchain. Workbench uses Ethereum Proof of Authority which optimizes transaction verification and eliminates the resource and performance overhead of mining.  This is a step forward from the Proof of Work consensus process in the previous App Builder release.

Workbench help organizations move much more quickly toward a production scenario than would otherwise be possible. For example, Azure Blockchain Workbench creates an easy way to test different scenarios for application logic and workflows. In our work with clients, we’ve seen how this flexibility to quickly spin up various implementation options meaningfully accelerates use-case exploration.

But before even rolling up your sleeves to explore those scenarios, you need the technical scaffolding in place with the proper integrations. By bringing together a prepackaged group of Azure services, Azure Blockchain Workbench saves hours of configuration time that would otherwise be necessary in setting up cloud infrastructure and services. Specifically, the following components are deployed to an Azure subscription when deploying Workbench (learn more here):
  • 1 App Service Plan (Standard)
  • 1 Application Insights
  • 1 Event Grid Topic
  • 2 Azure Key Vaults
  • 1 Service Bus Namespace
  • 2 SQL Databases (Standard S0)
  • 2 Azure Storage accounts (Standard LRS)
  • 2 Virtual Machine scale sets (ledger nodes and workbench microservices)
  • 2 Virtual Network resource groups (each with Load Balancer, Network Security Group, Public IP Address, Virtual Network)
  • Optional: Azure Monitor
These services are specifically set up in the ways needed to connect with blockchain’s native API, including with signing, hashing and routing tools that ensure created messages and events flow through correctly to your ledger. Connecting Azure to blockchain also lets you employ Azure identities for sign in and collaboration. And because Workbench is designed with broader integrations in mind, you can easily connect your existing systems and applications using Microsoft Flow and Logic Apps.

Because this scaffolding comes prepackaged, organizations can move more quickly to workflows relating to their own business situations, including deploying an actual ledger. We’ll dig into more workflow-specific concepts in future blog posts in this series.
 
Author

Mark Rentmeester

Director of Application Development Services

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