Toby Bowers, the servers and tools group lead at Microsoft Australia.
Microsoft is to open two data centres in Australia for the first time to support an expansion of its Windows Azure cloud computing services.
Australia will become a “major region” for Windows Azure, with two subregions in NSW and Victoria, Microsoft announced in a blog post.
The server and tools group lead, Toby Bowers, told BRW that Microsoft already had thousands of Windows Azure customers in Australia who were served out of the Singapore region.
“We’ve seen great reception of the Azure offering here in Australia and we’ve definitely been listening to customers,” Bowers says. “This move answers customer concerns about data sovereignty, disaster recovery and reduced latency.”
The challenge most organisations will face is understanding what can and should move to the Microsoft Azure Cloud, and what should remain on premise or with another service provider.
He adds that enterprise subscriptions for Windows Azure were up 49 per cent in the past six months and he expected demand to grow with the opening of the Australian region. Analyst firm IDC has predicted that infrastructure and platform as a service could be worth $492 million in Australia by the end of this year.
Geo-redundant data centres
The two data centres, at undisclosed locations, would be “geo-redundant”, meaning customers can back up their data in two separate locations – both within Australia.
Bowers did not announce when the data centres would be open but Gartner research director for infrastructure software, Michael Warilow, says he expects them to come online by late this year or soon after.
Warilow says the Microsoft announcement is “good for local cloud competition”, with IBM, Amazon Web Services and Rackspace already here and VMware due to come in 2014.
Microsoft has announced the data centres would be offering platform as a service and infrastructure as a service. Customers could host some applications in the cloud and some in their own data centres, with close integration between them.
The vice-president and principal analyst for CIO professionals at analyst firm Forrester, John Brand, says he expects Microsoft to also use the data centres to offer enterprise applications such as Office365, Exchange and SharePoint. He says the majority of demand from Australian customers would be for software as a service.
However, Microsoft’s Bower would not confirm that software as a service would be on offer, saying “there are no further details to share”.
Brand says the move is generally good news both for Australia and Microsoft because of “pent-up demand for onshore cloud hosting services”.
“Microsoft has been under pressure across the majority of its product portfolio because of limitations or restrictions about operating in the cloud,” Brand says. “The Microsoft Azure announcement at least provides a reasonable alternative to a very limited number of viable players in the local Australian market.”
Move with care
Brand adds that the data sovereignty issues are not solved by hosting the data onshore, since Microsoft is an American corporation bound by the US Patriot Act. He says business customers need to plan any move to Windows Azure carefully.
“There will be many that will assume that Azure services are inherently secure and that physical and data/application security layers have been taken care of,” Brand says. “This is not necessarily the case – not only for Microsoft but for any data centre operator.
“The challenge that most organisations will face is understanding what can and should move to the Microsoft Azure Cloud and what should remain on premise or with another service provider. Then they must consider potentially integrating operational management capabilities across multiple providers.”
Other Microsoft data centres for Windows Azure are located in the United States, Ireland, Hong Kong, Japan, China (managed by 21Vianet) and Singapore.