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Microsoft Azure CTO: 2018 is the year blockchain becomes a real thing

Blockchain has been around for a while, but it’s mostly played a supporting role as the backbone behind Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency. But now the technology, which promises better security and accountability through decentralized record-keeping, is stepping out from behind the curtain and taking center stage.

At the GeekWire Cloud Tech Summit, Mark Russinovich, the chief technology officer for Microsoft Azure, said 2018 is the year we are starting to see a wide variety of applications of blockchain, moving the technology from a romanticized cure-all to a real tool.

“Every single company we talk to is looking at how they can apply blockchain to various areas,” Russinovich said.

To see where the technology is going, one only needs to look at Microsoft. The tech giant has recently announced several blockchain plans aimed at solving a variety of problems.

Microsoft through its Xbox division is teaming up with EY to offer a blockchain service for game developers, publishers and others to simplify calculating royalties. Russinovich said the service, which began testing in February and is expected to roll out to key partners later this year, gives everyone immediate insight into royalty and contract information, down to the minute.

“This is a case where we want publishers to be able to see the royalties they are owed in real time, and blockchain gives them that ability,” Russinovich said. “Before, it was different processes, different systems. It would be 30, 60 days, before they could see what they are owed. Here they can see it in real time.”

Microsoft is also involved in a blockchain service for marine insurance. EY, Guardtime, A.P. Møller-Maersk and others teamed up for the blockchain-based platform that runs on Azure.

Marine insurance is a lot more complicated than car insurance for example, because every time a vessel crosses into a different country the premium can change. The dynamic nature of this type of insurance, and the many stakeholders and government agencies involved, pushes prices up. By giving everyone involved a window into the process through blockchain and automating the process, the belief is prices will go down as marine insurance becomes more simplified.

Microsoft has been one of the early blockchain adopters among tech giants. Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassy told reporters at re:Invent 2017 that AWS was just kicking the tires on blockchain technology at the moment, offering that the company doesn’t “build technology because we think it is cool.” But just a few months later Amazon began offering blockchain templates and services on AWS. 

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