Microsoft is expected to announce – at its partner conference on the Gold Coast on September 2-4 – that it will offer its long-awaited Australia-based Azure cloud computing facilities from October.
In the agenda for the event, Microsoft says: "We’ll share best practices from partners successfully developing packaged cloud offerings to manage desktops, storage or servers, as well as new opportunities around Microsoft Azure and our local data centre initiative."
The company would not provide details of the planned announcement, although the Azure Regions page on its website lists plans for "two new regions in Australia later this year".
Microsoft first flagged plans for Azure facilities in Australia in a Microsoft Australia blog posting in May 2013, saying: "The new Windows Azure major region in Australia will consist of two sub-regions located in New South Wales and Victoria. These two locations will be geo-redundant, offering our customers the ability to back up their data across two separate locations."
Data centre operator NextDC was reported to have secured a contract from Microsoft to host Azure facilities in April, but neither Microsoft nor NextDC confirmed this. ASX-listed NextDC has co-location facilities in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.
The lack of clarity about Microsoft’s local plans has frustrated some enterprise customers. One, who did not wish to be named, told IT Pro he had been seeking details, unsuccessfully, from Microsoft for months on the availability of Azure from an Australian data centre.
"This is quite frustrating for me. Azure offers us certain benefits that would require a non-trivial amount of one-off and ongoing effort from Amazon Web Services [AWS], notwithstanding the fact that from a number of perspectives, AWS is the market leader," he said.
"While AWS commenced their Australian presence via their Sydney node in early 2013, Microsoft still only offer Singapore as the nearest node. Given Australian data privacy rules, etc, this to me seems a glaring hole in Microsoft’s operations."
According to IBRS analyst Kevin McIsaac, the Azure cloud will be a boon to Microsoft-centric enterprises in Australia. "It has been a very badly kept secret that they’re launching in October," he said. "I have spoken to three different customers who have all said that Microsoft has alluded to an October opening."
Dr McIsaac urged Microsoft customers to seriously consider using the facility: "Everybody who has a Microsoft-centric strategy must look at this, specifically for disaster recovery as a service.
"If you are a Microsoft shop and you have a single primary data centre in which you run Hyper-V [Microsoft's hypervisor] and all your workload is virtualised, Microsoft has very nice suite of products that will take all your stuff and replicate it in the cloud asynchronously. It gives you very effective disaster recovery where you only pay for what you use. It’s very easy to set up and when disaster strikes you simply switch over to the cloud."
While such a facility could in practice be operated from an offshore data centre, Dr McIsaac said most organisations were reluctant to do so. "When you go to operate in recovery mode, you really want it to be Australia. And it’s much easier to convince people to run the cloud when it’s hosted in Australia," he said.
He added that taking a disaster recovery service could be the first step towards wider use of cloud services.
"Every time you run a test of your disaster recovery, not only are you convincing yourself that DR works, you are proving that you could move to the cloud."