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Microsoft Japan Partners With Startup to Increase Domestic Blockchain Uptake

Microsoft and LayerX hope to propagate blockchain technology throughout Japan’s domestic market.

The Japanese arm of computer giant Microsoft has partnered with nascent blockchain startup LayerX to “accelerate” uptake of the technology, Cointelegraph Japan reported Nov. 30.

LayerX, which formed in August as a joint venture from news curation app Gunosy and advisory service AnyPay, oversees blockchain integration for enterprise, including areas such as smart contracts and general consulting.

Using Microsoft’s Azure Blockchain-as-a-Service (BaaS) solution, the companies will seek to promote the technology further in the domestic economy.

“We will support the introduction process in its entirety, even down to technical support of finished implementations,” an accompanying press release stated, adding:

“Both companies will work toward realization of transformation of people’s lives and working practices by promoting the implementation of blockchain technology in various industries.”

Earlier this month, Microsoft released its cloud-based Azure blockchain development kit, which executives said would initially focus on three areas: “connecting interfaces, integrating data and systems, and deploying smart contracts and blockchain networks.”

The Japan move forms the latest in the country’s ever-increasing activity in both the blockchain and cryptocurrency sphere, with multiple entities involved in promoting the technology among consumers.

Two Japanese cryptocurrency exchanges, Coincheck and Zaif, meanwhile continue to recover from hacks in January and September this year that saw losses totaling almost $600 million.

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Microsoft Introduces Ethereum Proof-of-Authority Algorithm on Azure

Microsoft’s cloud platform Azure has introduced a proof-of-authority (PoA) algorithm on its Ethereum (ETH) blockchain product, according to a blog post Aug. 7.

The new Ethereum network algorithm will reportedly allow a “more efficient” way of building decentralized applications (DApps) for private or consortium networks, where “all consensus participants are known and reputable.”

In contrast to proof-of-work (PoW) — the existing protocol on Azure — a PoA algorithm is based on the principle of approved identities or validators on a blockchain, and does not require competition in completing the transactions.

The new Ethereum product on Azure is equipped with a number of features to ensure its correct functioning and security, such as an identity leasing system, Parity’s web-assembly support, Azure Monitor, and a Governance DApp.

The identity leasing system intends to ensure that while each member possesses  “redundant consensus nodes,” no two nodes can carry the same identity. The system provides identity protection even in the case of virtual machine (VM) or outage, so the new nodes “can quickly spin up and resume the previous nodes’ identities.”

Parity’s web-assembly support aims to simplify the process of building smart contracts, enabling customers to write them in languages that are more familiar than the existing Solidity programming language on the ETH blockchain. The blog post notes that developers will now be able to write DApps in such languages as C, C++, and Rust.

The Governance DApp solution intends to simplify voting and validator delegation in the process of participation in a consortium. By enabling this feature, the developers provide customers with a level of abstraction, which allows programmers to hide all but the relevant data about an object in order to lessen complexity and boost efficiency.

The Governance DApp will also ensure that each consortium member has control over his or her own keys, which allows for fully protected signing on a user’s chosen wallet, the blog post writes.

Microsoft first announced the launch of the Ethereum-based Azure cloud computing platform in late 2015. Founded in 2010, Azure provides a global network of Microsoft-managed data centers for developing, testing, deploying, and managing applications and services.

Earlier in June, the R3 blockchain consortium announced that the firm — together with 39 global financial companies — had successfully tested its know your customer (KYC) application, running a total of 45 nodes on Microsoft Azure.

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Banks and Regulators Complete KYC App Test on R3 Blockchain Platform

39 financial firms partnered with blockchain consortium R3 completed more than 300 transactions via R3’s know your customer (KYC) application, according to a post on R3’s blog June 28.

R3’s KYC project involved major financial and banking institutions worldwide such as Deutsche Bank, ING, the National Bank of Egypt, Raiffeisen Bank International, and others. It also involved regulators and central banks such as the Central Bank of Colombia, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and the Financial Superintendence of Colombia.

The transactions were conducted across eight timezones in 19 countries, wherein banks could request access to customer KYC data, and clients could grant or revoke access. Project participants ran a total of 45 nodes on Microsoft Azure, sharing data via the Corda network using CorDapp.

David E. Rutter, CEO of R3, said the goal of the the Corda-based KYC application is to speed up the usually “slow and time-consuming” process of verifying customer identity for financial transactions, also noting an “increasing demand for blockchain-based KYC solutions.”

Yorke Rhodes, Principal Program Manager of Azure Blockchain Engineering, commented that the initiative means to combine “technology and industry expertise” to facilitate the process of developинг blockchain projects by the banking sector, “aimed at solving shared business problems.”

On June 8, R3 reportedly revealed that the consortium’s internal financial targets are “10X short” of their revenue. A managing director of R3 told Fortune that the company is not in danger of running out of revenue, and will provide an update on their finances by the end of the calendar year.

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Microsoft Partners With Two Asian Firms on Blockchain Platform for Enterprises

The Taiwanese subsidiary of tech giant Microsoft has partnered with tech investment company China Binary Sale Technology and High Cloud to create a platform for enterprise blockchain development, according to a press release from Microsoft June 28.

Microsoft will provide its Azure cloud platform as a base for China Binary’s blockchain service. The three-part partnership reportedly intends to transform various industries such as finance, e-commerce, and entertainment, focusing on the Asia-Pacific region.

Taiwan Microsoft’s general manager Sun Jikang expressed his confidence about Microsoft’s ability to improve the security and operation speed of China Binary’s blockchain service. He also highlighted the technical potential of Taiwan, noting its “solid manufacturing” and Research and Development (R&D) foundation, as well as “excellent geographical location.”

China Binary’s founder Sun Jiangtao noted the crucial role of blockchain technology in fintech, business, science and other industries. Following the newly-announced cooperation, Jiangtao emphasized the importance of combining blockchain applications with other technologies, such as Internet of Things (IoT), biometrics, and artificial intelligence (AI).

In late May, Taiwan’s government created a parliamentary blockchain group to promote the development of the technology. On May 14, privately-held Taipei Fubon Commercial Bank announced that it deployed its blockchain-based payment system, reportedly becoming the first bank in Taiwan to do so.

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Logistics Giant Maersk Starts Using Blockchain Platform for Maritime Insurance

Transport and logistics company AP Moller-Maersk (a.k.a. Maersk) has begun using blockchain platform Insurwave for maritime insurance, Seatrade Maritime News reports Friday, May 25.

Developed by EY and Guardtime, Insurwave uses distributed ledger technology from cloud platform Microsoft Azure and follows global insurance standards. At the beginning of May, Microsoft Azure had announced the release of its blockchain app creation service, Azure Blockchain Workbench.

In the first year, Maersk will use Insurwave to manage 1,000 vessels and support over 500,000 digital ledger transactions. Lars Henneberg, the head of risk and insurance at Maersk, told Seatrade Maritime News that since, “marine insurance takes up considerable resources for us:”

“Moving it to [Microsoft Azure] is helping us automate manual processes and alleviate a range of inefficiencies and frictional costs in the way we have used to trade marine insurance.”

The Insurwave blockchain platform is now being commercially used by Willis Towers Watson, XL Catlin, and MS Amlin as well as Maersk. EY, Guardtime, and Microsoft plan on widening the platform to include marine cargo, global logistics, and the aviation and energy sectors in the future.

Blockchain technology has been used in the insurance industry in the past – at the end of March, several global insurance companies formed a blockchain startup in Zurich, and in April, international insurance firm Marsh announced a commercial blockchain solution for proof-of-insurance with IBM as a partner.

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Microsoft is Serious About Blockchain With Major Announcements and PRs

Microsoft Azure is investing a lot of resources in the development of a platform to optimize the creation of blockchain-based applications.

Despite Bill Gates’ negative statements about Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, Microsoft’s interest in blockchain has been growing. On May 7th, Microsoft Azure -a cloud computing platform- announced the creation of its Azure Blockchain Workbench service.

The official press release, entitled ‘Simplifying blockchain app development with Azure Blockchain Workbench,’ states that the company’s objective is to create templates to develop blockchain applications that adapt to the requirements of its users.

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This move seems to point to direct competition with Amazon, which had previously announced the offer of similar services.

According to the company, the development of the platform has proven successful, allowing several significant industries around the world to adopt blockchain technologies quickly and reliably:

“Engagement in our preview program has been overwhelming. Since September, hundreds of customers and partners have joined the preview and used Workbench to create innovative solutions to shared business problems.

In Israel, Bank Hapoalim is using Workbench to build a solution that simplifies the time consuming, manual processes required to issue bank guarantees for large purchases like real estate.

In Italy, Nestle has teamed up with Microsoft Digital to pilot an IoT-enabled solution that tracks the movement of its famous and delicious Bacio Perugina chocolate along the supply chain.

And in the US, Apttus is using Workbench to help banks and asset managers quickly build and deploy smart contracts to secure, track and adjust to changes in the loans that are securitized and pooled for collateralized debt instruments, protecting against risks that contributed to the 2008 financial crisis.

Business leaders are also looking to our partners to help them build these applications. Companies like Quisitive, Macaw, and Cegeka have built blockchain centers of excellence using Workbench to help customers ideate on blockchain applications in their business. Workbench frees up these partners to move beyond infrastructure and deliver differentiated, high-value service to their clients.

The use of Azure Workbench would considerably reduce the need to develop blockchain networks from scratch. This optimizes costs, reduces the effort required and facilitates subsequent maintenance expenses as there is a shared environment among several customers around the world.

NY Consensus: A Great Opportunity for Blockchain Developers to Gain Exposure

The Microsoft Azure team also mentioned that they were traveling to New York City to participate in NY Blockchain Week. They registered for the NY Consensus Summit, one of the world’s most important events in the development of blockchain technologies. Having two separate stands, they want to get most of  the attention:

Location of the Microsoft Stand on NY Consensus Summit 2018

Microsoft will be sharing spaces with other prestigious companies such as Etoro, NEM, Ripple, Qtum, IBM, Circle, Kraken, SAP, CME Group, Changelly, Bitcoin.com, Bitfury, Santander among dozens of important names related to the world of finance, technology, and blockchain in general.

Such is the importance of this event that financial analysts like Tom Lee predict a possible increase in BTC prices after the development of this summit:

Bottom line: We expect BTC and cryptocurrencies to behave similarly to prior years and rally during Consensus,”

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Microsoft Unveils New Blockchain Tools for Azure

Microsoft announced the Azure Blockchain Workbench Monday, releasing a new set of tools for developers that work with distributed ledger tech.

The Workbench provides “the scaffolding for an end-to-end blockchain application,” and can be set up “with just a few simple clicks,” according to the announcement. Put more simply, Microsoft is trying to streamline the method by which companies and their development teams can build apps on top of Azure-based blockchains.

“Today, we’re excited to announce the public preview release of Azure Blockchain Workbench, a new offering that can reduce application development time from months to days,” Azure general manager Matthew Kerner wrote in a blog post published Monday.

Kerner added:

“Workbench gets customers started quickly by automating infrastructure setup, so developers can focus on application logic, and business owners can focus on defining and validating their use cases.”

Some of the firm’s existing partners have already taken advantage of the Workbench, Microsoft announced, including Israel’s Bank Hapoalim, food distributor Nestle and “quote-to-cash” software producer Apttus.

Stepping back, the move is just the latest for the technology giant, which has joined several blockchain-focused partnerships in the last few months.

The company is working with Hyperledger, the United Nations, research consortium R3 and Cornell University’s Blockchain Research Group to study different aspects of blockchain technology.

Outside of those group efforts, Microsoft has shown interest in the technology for digital identity purposes, as previously reported.

Microsoft image via Volodymyr Kyrylyuk / Shutterstock

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