There’s a lot of hype around blockchain technologies at the moment, especially in the ongoing bubble. But that hype gets in the way of technologies that can help businesses manage assets and collaborate where trust is an issue. The underlying shared-ledger model that powers the blockchain is a powerful tool, and one that has a lot of potential.

So it’s not surprising to see Microsoft look at ways of building blockchain technologies into its Azure platform, first with , and now .

Intended to support enterprise blockchains, the Coco Framework is designed to be used in private. That gives it a performance advantage over public cryptocurrency blockchains and services, because they use large amounts of compute power to run a massive, scalable, and above all transparent network. In a public network, transactions require significant “proof of work” to be considered legitimate, making them slow and hard to use in many business scenarios.

Coco is not a blockchain but a set of foundations

The Coco Framework isn’t a blockchain protocol. It’s a way of building a collection of trusted nodes, with tools for ensuring consensus between them and for managing confidentiality. Once you have this in place, you can bring in an existing blockchain protocol to set up and manage your distributed ledger.

platform for blockchain-facilitated contracts, and it suggests that other tools, like Quorum and Corda, should also be compatible. It’s perhaps best to think of Coco as a layer between secure computing technologies and the blockchain.

Microsoft’s Azure CTO, Mark Russinovich, says at the moment blockchain is not ready for the enterprise beyond using cryptocurrencies. “As opposed to public ledgers and bitcoin, enterprises want to use blockchain in a consortium environment, where there are multiple parties, different organizations, or different groups in the same organization that want to get rid of the friction of a centralized ledger. … A blockchain’s distributed ledger gives them an opportunity to get rid of the middleman and have full transparency about the interactions between different organizations.”

At the heart of the Coco Framework is the idea of a consortium, a group of entities that might be individuals or companies, or even applications or services. Instead of an open public network, it’s closed and private, more akin to the EDI systems used to link companies with suppliers than the public internet. It wouldn’t be hard to see an EDI tool for, say a shipload of containers, running on Coco: Everyone with goods on the ship could see where the ship was, monitor the status of their containers, and share bills of lading and other key documentation needed for customs processes.

TEEing up security in Coco

Where Coco differs from other blockchain implementations is its support for trusted execution environments (TEEs), building on the security technologies built into the processors used in Azure’s infrastructure and on the secure virtual machines that host the elements of a Coco application.

as an open source project.