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Microsoft Executive Vice President Scott Guthrie at the inaugural GeekWire Cloud Tech Summit. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Microsoft Azure is seeing demand for cloud-based blockchain services, Microsoft Azure chief Scott Guthrie said Friday, but it doesn’t sound like the company’s cloud computing division will be changing its name to Microsoft Azure Blockchain Services any time soon.

In 2018, blockchain sits in that hallowed spot reserved for the can’t-miss get-in-now technologies of the future, a spot filled over the years by things like chatbots, OpenStack, and 3D printing. Microsoft Azure chief Scott Guthrie told The Information Friday that “we’ve had lots of success with (a cloud-based blockchain product),” citing unnamed financial-industry customers in the U.K. that are looking at the technology as a way of settling real-estate transactions without going through the escrow process.

But The Information’s positioning of that “success” as a cudgel against Amazon Web Services, which has a sizable lead over Microsoft in the market for cloud infrastructure services without a managed blockchain service, seems more than a little premature.

The only mass-market use of blockchain technology right now is bitcoin, and you can certainly debate just how widespread a market that really is. Lots of people are interested in blockchain’s distributed ledger system as a potential way to cut out the middleman in transactions between manufacturers or retailers and their suppliers, but the number of people actually using blockchain technology for those types of services right now is quite small.

An overview of a blockchain put together by IBM. (IBM Image)

The entire market for blockchain services in 2017 — and not necessarily cloud vendor-provided blockchain services — sits at $708 million, according to a report from WinterGreen Research cited by The Information. By comparison, Gartner said last September that it expects cloud services revenue will have reached $260.2 billion in 2017.

IBM and Microsoft are said to be driving this blockchain growth; “60 IBM cloud data centers see blockchain as the top application driving growth,” WinterGreen said in the report.

Yet, while it’s not clear exactly how IBM accounts for blockchain-related revenue, IBM revenue from every key segment it reports — except those impossible-to-kill mainframes — decreased year-over-year in the fourth quarter. If blockchain is the top application driving growth for IBM Cloud, it’s not exactly driving a ton of growth.

In that report, WinterGreen also predicts astounding growth of 757 percent in that blockchain market by 2024 to $60.7 billion, which is among the most dramatic forward-looking statements I’ve seen in a while. Blockchain is indeed a very interesting possibility for future contracts and identity systems, but the hype surrounding the technology has ballooned to ridiculous proportions thanks to the volatile price of bitcoin.

AWS CEO Andy Jassy told reporters at re:Invent 2017 that AWS is just kicking the tires on blockchain technology at the moment, offering that the company doesn’t “build technology because we think it is cool.” And blockchain services are not nearly as complicated or compelling as machine-learning services, an area in which all cloud vendors are investing heavily right now in hopes of gaining an advantage over their rivals.

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