Microsoft has announced plans to deliver secure Azure services for the Australian government under a new strategic partnership with the locally-owned Canberra Data Centres.
These “hyperscale cloud services” will be available from the CDC locations and are designed to handle Unclassified and Protection material under the specification guidelines of the Australian Signals Directorate’s (ASD’s) certifications.
Available in the first half of 2018, the services will be sourced through the CDC’s data centres. The CDC currently operates four data centres sited at Fyshwick and Hume.
The new Azure regions in Canberra are known as Central 1 and Central 2. These join Azure services in Sydney and Melbourne, bringing the tally of Azure to four regions in Australia.
The Canberra-based services puts Microsoft in a stronger position to pitch for lucrative government cloud business.
Azure is a cloud computing service that enables customers to build, test, deploy, and manage applications and services through a global network of Microsoft-managed data centres. It provides software-as-a-service, platform-as-a-service and infrastructure-as-a-service.
Azure services support different programming languages, tools and frameworks, including both Microsoft-specific and third-party software and systems.
Among the government Azure users, the 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.
The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science was one of the first federal agencies to federate with Microsoft Azure and one of the first government departments in the Asia-Pacific to roll out Dynamics365.
Among the state users, Azure is used by the new Bendigo Hospital – Victoria’s newest acute care facility. It is delivering anytime, anywhere access to patient and clinical information with the help of local Microsoft partner Mexia on Microsoft Azure.
Emergency services in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria rely on Microsoft Azure and Microsoft Office 365 to respond to natural disasters.
The Federal Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation, Angus Taylor, welcomed the news of the Microsoft Azure-CDC partnership, noting the administration has embarked on a sweeping program of change that may come to benefit from the announcement.
“This will ensure we can meet the expectations and needs of all Australians. Local software ecosystem can build its skills and innovate rapidly to first serve our local needs, then expand into global markets.”
According to Tom Keane, Head of Global Infrastructure, Microsoft Azure, Azure is expanding globally which will create greater opportunities for their customers.
“Australia is a critical cloud market for Microsoft,” he said. “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”.
Australia’s cloud market
According to Intermedium’s ICT contracting data, the total contract value (TCV) of ICT contracts signed during 2015-16 was $9.1 billion (including Defence). The TCV of ICT contracts in 2014-15 was $7.3 billion.
There were 94 cloud computing contracts reported during 2015-16, valued at $39.69 million. During 2014-15, there were 57 cloud computing contracts valued at $15.87 million.
The uptake of cloud services is influenced by security considerations, including cross-border data storage, access to personal data by foreign jurisdictions, as well as privacy and governance guidelines.
Canberra Data Centres is 48 percent owned by the Australian Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation, and 48 percent owned by New Zealand based Infratil. The remaining 4 percent is owned by CDC management.
Partnering with the local provider CDC enables Microsoft to offer highly-secure cloud services, while expanding the Azure footprint into federal government.
The two new regions in Canberra complement Microsoft’s existing cloud services that are available in Sydney and Melbourne. The co-located services in Canberra will secure assets, and make it easier for the federal government to consume.
This complements the centralisation of ICT in the nation’s capital, and offers ready access to cloud assets, rather than sourcing these from Sydney or Melbourne.
The Canberra services will serve both “Unclassified” and “Protected” data. Appropriate controls are available at the staff, physical, information and governance levels. These are designed to achieve protected certification in compliance with Australian government requirements.
Competing in the cloud space
Microsoft said the announcement makes it the only major cloud provider in Australia to deliver services that handle both unclassified and protected government data. With two new regions in Canberra, the tally of Microsoft regions will reach 42. This is understood to be more than any other major cloud provider.
Additionally, the latest announcement pitches Microsoft against Amazon Web Services (AWS). Both cloud providers are seeking to capture a slice of the lucrative Australian government market.
While AWS remains one of the most used local providers, it is understood to trail Microsoft in the services certification area. This certification involves an arduous ASD process that requires cloud suppliers to offer trusted services, while complying with the privacy, legislative and governance requirements under specific jurisdictions.
Globally, Microsoft has spent considerable time positioning itself as one of the more secure cloud providers. It has worked with the local jurisdictions, including the Australian government, to obtain security accreditation.
Microsoft continues to rapidly expand its global cloud footprint, having recently revealed plans to deliver the Microsoft Cloud from new datacentres in South Africa and France, and cloud services from new regions in the UK, Germany and South Korea.
The Canberra Data Centres’ CEO, Greg Boorer, said the CDC was built from the ground-up over ten years with a singular purpose: to be the most trusted, flexible and resilient platform for government innovation.
The two CDC campuses are the only private data centre facilities in Australia with the security controls and accreditations appropriate for the handling of Top Secret government data.
The concentration of secure connectivity including the Intra Government Communications Network (ICON) at CDC provides an added benefit for government agencies with secure, highly cost-effective network access to Microsoft Azure.
For those higher levels of classification such as Secret or Top Secret data, or for services that need to operate in a deployed environment, customers and partners can leverage the recently-announced Azure Stack for a consistent hybrid cloud experience.
The Canberra regions will support similar core services to those available in all Azure regions. These incorporate Virtual Networks, ExpressRoute, Azure Key Vault, virtual machine infrastructure and the SQLServer platform service. Other services will be added based on the demand from customers.
In June, the ASD formally certified an expanded range of Microsoft Azure and Office 365 services for inclusion on the ASD Certified Cloud Services List.
The Azure services on the ASD's Certified Cloud Services List has expanded from six to 40, while 10 services within its Office 365 suite have now been accredited.
The ADS certification categories incorporate both protected and unclassified classifications. These classifications mean that cloud, or related products can be adopted more widely across the Federal government.
Additional ADS accreditation enables cloud services providers to offer trusted services, while meeting government requirements around privacy, compliance and transparency. Cloud providers are starting to invest in the security needs of Australian federal, state and local government customers.