Microsoft launches Azure cloud regions in Canberra

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Microsoft launches Azure cloud regions in Canberra
James Kavanagh (Microsoft) and Greg Boorer (Canberra Data Centres)

Microsoft has launched two Azure public cloud regions in Canberra, focused on meeting the mission-critical workloads of government and critical infrastructure providers.

The two new regions go live in Canberra Data Centres’ Fyshwick and Hume facilities today, bringing the total number of global Azure regions to 50.

The company first announced its intention to establish data centres in Canberra last August in a bid to lure more federal government agencies into the cloud, and get a jump on Amazon Web Services, which currently has no data centre in the region, instead using Direct Connect through NextDC.

It follows the recent rewrite of the federal government cloud strategy, which has reiterated the need for agencies to use cloud services – particularly public cloud – for new or modernised services where appropriate.

The facility will initially be focused at existing Canberra-based government and critical infrastructure customers with mission-critical applications and workloads, who until now have been hosted in Microsoft’s existing Australian public cloud data centres in Sydney and Melbourne.

Federal government agencies including the likes of the Tax Office, who are increasingly using Azure for some of its critical applications, as well as the Department of Human Services, Home Affairs and the local ACT government are expected to be some of Microsoft's first customers to move to the two new regions, dubbed Azure Australia Central.

A number of customers across utilities, telecommunications and banking have also been approved for the new region, which is otherwise restricted to Australian and New Zealand governments and whitelisted critical infrastructure organisations.

These customers will be progressively whitelisted and migrated for applications that require the high availability, low latency and disaster resilience offered by CDC.

Microsoft Azure engineering lead for Australia James Kavanagh said the company had opted to deliver the Azure platform from CDC because it offered “the best ... data centre infrastructure” in Australia.

“We chose data centres that are already designed for critical infrastructure, that are already accredited for the handling of secret defence classified data and currently process a lot of that data across the federal government,” he said.

“Physical security, supply chain integrity and personnel security are all addressed in these highly resilient data centres.”

CDC, which already has a large contingent of government customers, will also offer customers the ability to co-locate their existing systems or private clouds within the same facilities and connect directly to Azure.

This is specifically designed to help agencies modernise critical applications over multiple years.

“It means a customer could bring their mainframe and run it directly connected to the public cloud, and progressively take workloads and functions off the mainframe and at a point in time remove the mainframe,” Kavanagh said.

“That does not exist anywhere else in Australia. That ability to have this co-location space that is within the same premise - one fibre optic cable coming out, another fibre optic cable coming in - extremely low latency, extremely predictable and very low cost.”

Azure Australia Central will similarly tap into the point-to-point dark fibre network known as ICON, which connects all federal government agencies.

Partner ecosystem

The new regions will give customers immediate access to a 'partner ecosystem' of 47 local and international partners aimed at accelerating the opportunity for digital transformation in government and national critical infrastructure.

The partners, which cover a broad cross-section of the market, will leverage the Azure platform to deliver their applications and services.

They include system integrators and managed service providers such as Accenture, Leidos and DXC, as well as global and niche software vendors like SAP and Veritas, and open source partners such as RedHat and Cloudera.

But Kavanagh said Microsoft was planning to expand this network of partners over the coming months and years to open up choices and possibilities to government.

“That’s just the beginning, that’s day one,” he said.

“We have a pipeline of hundred after who want to come on to this, and we’ll progressively on-board them."

CDC chief executive Greg Boorer said the ecosystem would help partners secure business with government and critical infrastructure organisations by allowing them to leverage CDC’s secret accredited foundation and Microsoft’s secure accredited platform.

“Historically each one of those [partners] had struggled to do business with government because you would require them personally to accredit the facility, to accredit the platform or the systems or maybe manage them themselves, and then actually accredit their software as a service type offering or whatever they’re doing on top,” he said.

“However, here because 90-95 percent of all the hard work has already been done, suddenly up to 400 of these organisations that have never really had the opportunity or access to government because it’s all too difficult can suddenly and very rapidly and very inexpensively get accredited to be able to work with government.

“And that’s kind of a big story I believe in IT because it’ll open up a lot of opportunity for innovations in digital transformation across government that have not previously existed in any kind of meaningful way.”

Jon Palin, chief technology officer at software vendor Objective Corporation said that by leveraging CDC’s ASD security classification it would be able to more easily access the government IT market.

“One of the barriers for us has been that, for the government market, we can only support unclassified information,” he said.

“Bringing Azure here just opens up that market because of the security that this facility provides.”

Still waiting on ASD certification

Despite Microsoft's hopes of one day using the facility to handle both unclassified and protected data on Azure, the company is still yet to receive protected level certification from the Australian Signals Directorate even though it received protected IRAP certification approximately 12 months ago.

There are four levels of government data classification: unclassified, protected, secret and top secret, with only four cloud providers certified to handle protected-level data: Vault Systems and Sliced Tech, and more recently Macquarie Telecom and Dimension Data.

But Kavanagh says Microsoft is actively working with agencies, which were given more power over certifications in the DTA cloud strategy, to move forward on protected and top secret certifications.

Microsoft currently has 52 services across Azure, Office 365 and Dynamics 365 certified to an unclassified level.

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