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Microsoft moves deep into government cloud as Azure comes to Canberra

Partners well-placed to capitalise as tech giant unveils two new Azure cloud regions in Canberra
James Kavanagh (Microsoft) and Greg Boorer (Canberra Data Centres)

James Kavanagh (Microsoft) and Greg Boorer (Canberra Data Centres)

Microsoft has unveiled plans to launch two highly-secure Azure regions in Canberra, partnering with Canberra Data Centres (CDC) to lure government agencies to the cloud.

Available in the first half of 2018, the two new regions will focus on government and their suppliers at federal, state and local levels, offering advanced data analytics, sophisticated data protections and artificial intelligence.

Complementing Microsoft’s existing cloud presence in Sydney and Melbourne, the two new regions allows the vendor to deliver hyper-scale cloud services to handle unclassified and protected government data.

“Less than three years ago, we launched our first cloud services from an Australian data centre,” Microsoft Azure engineering lead for Australia James Kavanagh said.

“Since then, we’ve worked to lead the way in delivering trusted innovation to our customers and partners, which has at times meant the hard work of undertaking very onerous compliance processes.

“We’ve taken on that effort to reduce the work our partners and customers must do themselves thus accelerating their ability to adopt innovation.”

According to Canberra-based Kavanagh, such an approach has led the Australian Signals Directorate to certify a total of 52 services across Azure, Office 365 and Dynamics 365 – “far more than all other cloud services combined”.

“Globally we have over 60 compliance certifications and attestations making Azure the truly trusted cloud for government,” he added.

“Today is a big step forward and another first – progressing to deliver our hyper-scale cloud for both unclassified and protected data from facilities designed for the handling of even top secret classified data and surrounded by an ecosystem that can drive real outcomes for government.

“We’re confident these two new regions and the services provided will satisfy requirements for unclassified and protected data. And that confidence comes from the simple fact we’ve already completed assessments under the Independent Registered Assessors Program (IRAP) for services in Sydney and Melbourne.”

Inside Canberra Data Centres
Inside Canberra Data Centres

In reviewing those services, Kavanagh said IRAP assessors delivered a “positive finding” in favour of certification at protected level earlier this year.

“We’re still working to finalise this certification process with Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) and for clarity it is important to be aware that Microsoft Azure is not certified at protected level by ASD,” he added. “We still have work to do, but the pathway is understood.”

Through partnering with CDC, Microsoft is leveraging two campuses that are the only private data centre facilities in Australia with the security controls and accreditations capable of handling of top secret government data.

Delving deeper, the concentration of secure connectivity including the Intra Government Communications Network (ICON) at CDC stands to provide an added benefit for government agencies with secure, highly cost-effective network access to Microsoft Azure.

“We’ve built Canberra Data Centres from the ground-up over 10 years with a singular purpose to be the most trusted, flexible and resilient platform for government innovation,” CDC CEO Greg Boorer added.

“But more important than building and operating facilities that are now widely regarded as some of the most modern and secure in Australia, has been the creation of an ecosystem of customers and partners that thrive together.

“Our strategic partnership is about combining the local ecosystem and our own expertise with the global innovation and open ecosystem of Microsoft.”

Building a foundation of trust

The news follows June’s announcement when the ASD formally certified a greatly expanded range of Azure and Office 365 services for inclusion on the ASD Certified Cloud Services List.

In July, Microsoft bolstered its hybrid capabilities through the launch of Azure Stack, designed to offer an extension of Microsoft Azure that provides public cloud capabilities to an on-premise or hosted environment.

“Across our nation, we see government, healthcare and education organisations all driving forward with their digital transformation initiatives,” Microsoft Australia managing director Steven Worrall added.

“We hear from them the need for Microsoft to deliver rapid innovation and unleash the possibilities and creativity that only the cloud can provide. But also, to do that in a way that provides the highest levels of assurance in security, privacy and resilience.”

As a result, Worrall said Microsoft’s expansion into Canberra represents the first opportunity for public cloud services from a major provider to be located in the same highly secure facilities as some of the nation’s most sensitive data.

Specifically, the two new regions are intended to serve data classified as either protected or unclassified - featuring dissemination limiting markers (DLM).

“We’re listening and today’s announcement shows Microsoft is committed to delivering both the innovation and the trusted platform our customers and partners demand,” he added.

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“Our partnership with Canberra Data Centres, our open approach and our mature ecosystem of partners, ensures government can accelerate transformation and apply intelligent systems to their abundant existing data.”

The announcement also aligns with government plans to digitally transform both internal and external operations, with the Microsoft cloud underpinning such innovations across the country.

For example, the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection has Dynamics 365 and Microsoft Azure at the heart of a new system that is streamlining Australian Border Force cargo inspections.

While the new Bendigo Hospital, Victoria’s newest acute care facility is delivering anytime anywhere access to patient and clinical information with the help of local Microsoft partner Mexia on Azure.

Furthermore, emergency services in Queensland, NSW and Victoria rely on Azure and Microsoft Office 365, with the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science becoming one of the first federal agencies to federate with Microsoft Azure and one of the first government departments in APAC to roll out Dynamics365 which is proving a powerful ally for both Department staff and Australian businesses.

“The Australian Government has embarked on a sweeping program of change, bringing digital innovation to the transformation of the Australian public sector,” Hon. Angus Taylor MP, assistant minister for Cities and Digital Transformation added.

“Global innovation in areas such as cloud technology is an essential foundation for this transformation and will ensure we can meet the expectations and needs of all Australians. So too the local software ecosystem can build its skills and innovate rapidly to first serve our local needs, then expand into global markets.”

With two new regions coming to Australia - alongside new data centres in South Africa and France, and the availability of cloud services from new regions in the UK, Germany and South Korea - Microsoft has now announced 42 Azure regions globally, more than any other major cloud provider.

“Azure expands globally to create greater opportunity for the digital transformation of our customers,” Microsoft head of global infrastructure of Azure Tom Keane added. “Australia is a critical cloud market for Microsoft.

“We’re delighted to be partnering with a locally owned provider with deep roots across government to further extend the reach of our cloud, and to provide the full innovation of Azure to Australian and New Zealand Government customers and partners.”

An open ecosystem for partners

From a channel perspective, the news is also designed to provide new cloud opportunities for Microsoft’s partner ecosystem, both locally and globally.

Inside Canberra Data Centres
Inside Canberra Data Centres

“In Australia, thousands of Microsoft partners develop technology solutions for the public sector, they support the operations of government, they employ tens of thousands of staff and they contribute to the quality and prosperity of our country,” Microsoft One Commercial partner lead Mark Leigh added.

“With their help, Australian federal, state and local governments are accelerating their pace of innovation, increasingly within the cloud.”

With security, privacy and transparency remaining of fundamental importance, Leigh said partners can leverage the Microsoft cloud platform to help drive digital transformation conversations across the country.

“We’ve built our business on applying Microsoft cloud solutions to the needs of Australian government customers,” added Keiran Mott, CEO of Veritec, a 120-strong Canberra-based organisation.

“There’s a tremendous desire all across government to get on with delivering real innovation and taking advantage of all the cloud has to offer. Perception of security has in the past been a blocker.  With this news, it’s not any more.”

Meanwhile, software provider Intelledox, is finding global success from its Canberra headquarters through its Infiniti solution for workflow, smart forms and automation, leveraging Azure along the way.

“We’ve been a Microsoft partner for over two decades and we have proven the value of innovating on a trusted cloud like Microsoft Azure,” Intelledox co-founder and executive director Michelle Melbourne said.

“We can confidently deliver our Infiniti solution to enable the transformation of digitally focused government agencies as well as insurance, banking, financial services, education and healthcare companies globally.

“This investment by Microsoft in Canberra opens new possibilities, but even more importantly it highlights their commitment to supporting the ecosystem we are building with government and enterprise to evolve and grow. And that’s going to make a big difference to all Australians.”

In addition, Gravity Consulting - creator of the StrategyDotZero solution for strategy execution and enterprise visualisation - cited the announcement as “hugely important”, as the Canberra based start-up continues to help government agencies across Australia manage some of the largest, most complex programs of work.

“And we’re building that all on Azure, applying artificial intelligence and data visualisation to enable better executive decision making,” Gravity Consulting founder Kailash Krishnamurthi added.

“Our customers demand the highest levels of security and this announcement really helps us to confidently deliver to their needs.”