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Microsoft and friend bringing Azure to Canberra

Microsoft Azure will be available from highly-secure data centres in Canberra, starting in the first half of 2018.

Microsoft has announced plans to add two more Azure regions in Australia, in partnership with data centre operator Canberra Data Centres.

Canberra Data Centres is already home to systems operated by of for more than 40 government departments and agencies, CEO Greg Boorer (pictured, left) told iTWire

These systems have varying security classifications, and the Azure Canberra regions are planned to achieve certification for Unclassified and Protected data.

The company currently operates four data centres (with a fifth to be added) across two campuses, with a current capacity in excess of 60MW.

Microsoft Azure ANZ engineering lead James Kavanagh (pictured, right) said current estimates are that the Federal Government spends around $9 billion a year on ICT, but cloud accounts for less than 1% of that. In common with other organisations, the magnitude of government expenditure on running existing systems leaves little for digital transformation.

Obstacles to increasing government use of cloud services include compliance issues and the difficulty of moving existing mission-critical systems to new platforms.

Microsoft's strategy is to establish two new Azure regions - a "very significant investment" - in Canberra, in partnership with Canberra Data Centres.

The new regions will act as a resilient pair, being sufficiently close to allow low-latency networking between them. Furthermore, Canberra Data Centres is already on the ICON dark fibre network connecting most government buildings in Canberra.

The "vast majority" of government agencies already use Canberra Data Centres, said Boorer, and it is the largest aggregation point for government data. All this business has been won through open tenders, he emphasised, adding that the data centres themselves have been built to Top Secret standards.

Canberra Data Centres Greg Boorer and Microsoft James Kavanagh

Furthermore, 48% of the company is owned by the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation with 4% held by the management team, so an adverse change of control "would never be contemplated." The other 48% is held by New Zealand based and dual-listed infrastructure holding company Infratil.

Apart from compliance issues, the size and scale of government data is a barrier to moving workloads to hyperscale cloud providers in Sydney or Melbourne. It made more sense to drop that type of infrastructure into Canberra Data Centres where the data already lives.

Kavanagh said the necessary work has been done for the new regions to meet the requirements of Unclassified and Protected data, which accounts for the majority of government systems, although the actual testing "takes a bit of time." Agencies and departments also have the opportunity to run Azure Stack (Microsoft's Azure software running on customer-owned hardware) physically alongside legacy systems and the new Azure regions, perhaps for Secret or Top Secret workloads.

This unique and "significant strategic partnership" between Microsoft and Canberra Data Centres provides an opportunity to "unblock the government digital transformation agenda," he observed.

The isolation mechanisms between Azure customers are "entirely adequate and effective" for Unclassified or Protected data, Kavanagh said, and the new regions will not be open to all comers. "There will be a restriction process" but the details are still being worked out with the Federal Government.

The announcement was welcomed by companies that provide services to government agencies and departments.

For example, Intelledox co-founder and executive director Michelle Melbourne said "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.

"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."


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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.