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Comparing Azure’s and AWS’ Cloud Blockchain Services

Cloud blockchain services are designed to help developers build, deploy or run applications that interact with a blockchain.

Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS) are in something of an arms race surrounding cloud blockchain services. What does each public cloud provider offer for developers looking to build blockchain apps? Which types of blockchain use cases do they cater to?

Here’s a look at answers to those questions, based on a comparison of the blockchain-related services available from both AWS and Azure. (There are other players in the cloud blockchain market, including IBM and Oracle, but we’ll restrict our focus here to the two biggest public cloud vendors, Azure and AWS.)

What Is a Cloud Blockchain Service?

Before jumping into the AWS versus Azure blockchain discussion, let me define what I mean by “blockchain service” in the cloud.

I’m referring to any type of cloud-based service that is designed to help developers build, deploy or run applications that interact with a blockchain in some way. The services could integrate with an existing public blockchain, like bitcoin or ethereum, or they could allow organizations to launch their own blockchains.

In short, if it runs in the AWS or Azure cloud and it has to do with a blockchain in one way or another, it’s relevant for comparing the blockchain offerings of these two public clouds.

Azure Blockchain Services

The Azure cloud currently offers two main cloud blockchain services.

1. Azure Blockchain Workbench

The first is Azure Blockchain Workbench, whose launch in May 2018 signaled Azure’s jump into the blockchain market.

Blockchain Workbench is designed to provide an easy way for other Azure services to interact with a blockchain. For example, it makes it possible to sync data that is stored on a blockchain with a traditional database. You could also use Azure Active Directory to manage user or resource identities that are associated with a blockchain application, and you could trigger smart contracts that run on a blockchain from applications that run on Azure.

To date, much of Microsoft’s messaging related to Azure Blockchain Workbench has centered on enterprise use cases. The company touts use cases for its blockchain service involving payment reconciliation for online travel and managing data for insurance companies, for example.

2. Azure Blockchain Development Kit

Microsoft took the functionality of Blockchain Workbench a bit further in November 2018, when it launched the Azure Blockchain Development Kit.

Essentially, the Development Kit makes it easier for developers to use Blockchain Workbench by providing prebuilt integrations that can connect apps to a blockchain using Azure’s Workbench service. The Development Kit doesn’t offer much in the way of brand-new functionality; it just allows developers to build and deploy real-world blockchain applications on Blockchain Workbench more easily.

Other Azure Blockchain Services

In addition to the services listed above, Azure offers several notable blockchain-related tools:

  • Hyperledger Fabric on Azure, which automates most of the tasks required to create a new blockchain and host it on Azure infrastructure using Hyperledger Fabric, an open source tool for building blockchains
  • Ethereum on Azure, which lets you create an Ethereum blockchain network hosted on Azure
  • Support for testing CorDapps, which run on the Corda distributed ledger, on Azure
  • Tools for fast-tracking Ethereum-based smart contract development.

AWS Blockchain Services

AWS’s blockchain offerings include the following:

1. Amazon QLDB

Perhaps the most basic is Amazon Quantum Ledger Database, or QLDB. AWS describes the service as “a new class of database.” It allows AWS users to run databases that offer the core features of a blockchain--data transparency, immutability and cryptographic verifiability--without having to set up their own blockchain.

Thus, QLDB is in essence a data storage solution with some special features. If you want the advantages of blockchain-based data storage without having to create or manage a blockchain yourself, QLDB is your answer.

2. Amazon Managed Blockchain

If you want to create and run a blockchain of your own, Amazon Managed Blockchain is the AWS service you need. Managed Blockchain lets you create new blockchains hosted on AWS infrastructure using Hyperledger Fabric or Ethereum. (Ethereum support is forthcoming, according to Amazon.)

Thus, Managed Blockchain is more or less the AWS equivalent of Hyperledger Fabric for Azure and Ethereum for Azure, both discussed above.

3. AWS Blockchain Templates

AWS Blockchain Templates offer another way to create blockchain networks quickly and host them on AWS infrastructure. Like Amazon Managed Blockchain, they are powered by Hyperledger Fabric and Ethereum.

Azure vs. AWS for Blockchain

All in all, the blockchain services offered by Azure and AWS are broadly comparable. Both clouds provides quick ways of creating new blockchains and hosting them on their infrastructure.

That said, Azure currently stands out for offering somewhat more robust support for building real-world blockchain applications that are fully integrated with other Azure services. AWS’ blockchain offerings are designed primarily for developers who want to spin up a blockchain network quickly to test an application they are developing, then deploy that application on an actual public blockchain instead of on AWS.

In contrast, Azure Blockchain Workbench and Development Kit provide extensive integration between the rest of the Azure cloud and an application running on a blockchain. You can use Azure services not just for testing blockchain applications, but also for real-world, production-level tasks like credentials management within a blockchain app.

AWS Managed Blockchain, which was announced just last November, seems to be an effort by AWS to move in Azure’s direction with respect to deploying production blockchain apps on AWS infrastructure. Azure has a bit of a lead, but AWS is following close behind on the blockchain front.

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