This article was updated to correct the location and timing of Microsoft’s rollout of it’s Azure Government cloud regions.
Microsoft plans to open two new regional Azure cloud computing facilities dedicated exclusively to the Defense Department, company officials announced Tuesday.
The new cloud facilities will be the first in the nation to operate as physically isolated data centers dedicated for the exclusive use of the DOD and able to meet its most demanding “Impact Level 5” cloud security controls, according to Microsoft officials.
The two new DOD-only facilities will be located physically nearby, but isolated from, existing Azure Government regional facilities in Iowa and Virginia, and are expected to be operational by the end of 2016. The facilities will host Microsoft’s Azure Government and Office 365 US Government Defense, but also enable Defense Department agencies and qualified contractors to manage DOD National Security System data.
Microsoft also announced it will open two additional Azure Government cloud regions in Texas and Arizona slated to come online sometime in 2017, bringing to six the total number of dedicated government cloud centers operated by Microsoft.
According to Jason Zander, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for Microsoft Azure, nearly 6 million users across more than 7,000 federal, state and local government customer accounts now use Microsoft’s Government Cloud.
A key factor driving Microsoft’s growth in the government sector has been the company’s ongoing pursuit of demanding security certifications for its cloud services for federal customers and other regulated industries.
“Microsoft has signed Criminal Justice Information Services agreements in 23 states, covering more than 60 percent of the U.S. population,” Zander said. “This is nearly six times the number signed by our nearest cloud competitor.”
Another factor is Microsoft’s widening embrace of open source software platforms that work in the cloud.
“The cloud has to meet people where they are,” Zander said in an interview with FedScoop.
He pointed to Microsoft’s recent agreement with Red Hat that permits many government customers using Red Hat Enterprise Linux on premises to “lift and shift” their applications and data to Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform.
Another less recognized factor is the extent to which Microsoft is adding new features to its cloud services on a regular basis.
“We’ve been shipping new features every 32 hours over the last four months,” Zander said.
That’s especially challenging with cloud certification programs like the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, which require providers to go through a reauthorization process when cloud services change in a material way.
Zander, however, pointed most enthusiastically to the benefits government agencies are seeing from the speed and scale of hypercomputing now available through the cloud along with the emerging potential of artificial intelligence.
Microsoft now operates 38 regional cloud centers worldwide, he said. “Some are the size of 16 football fields… with hundreds of thousands of servers and zettabytes of storage,” he said.
That makes it possible to “translate the entire contents of the Library of Congress to another language in just two seconds,” Zander said.
That capability, combined with “deep learning” programs, is bringing the world of computing to “what I think is a new inflection point,” Zander said.