Microsoft Aims For More Federal Government Business With New Secured Hybrid Cloud And Productivity Tools

Microsoft revealed a broad push to win government business Monday with an upgrade to its Azure Stack on-premises solution that meets compliance standards for sensitive federal workloads, as well as new data centers being constructed in secret locations and a Microsoft 365 release hosted in such secured facilities.

At the Microsoft Government Tech Summit in the nation's capital, the Redmond, Wash.-based cloud giant told partners it's taking the next step in meeting the mission-critical needs of U.S. government customers. Microsoft is competing with Amazon Web Services for lucrative government contracts that involve hosting classified data.

The Azure Stack upgrade planned to hit market later this year integrates Microsoft's on-premises solution for facilitating hybrid cloud architectures with Azure Government, an environment tailored to meet federal security and management requirements, Tom Keane, Azure's head of global infrastructure, said in a blog post.

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The solution provides "a foundation for the intelligent edge and enables advanced services that can power the [Department of Defense's] tactical missions" by enabling "consistent connections to Azure Government across identity, subscription, billing, backup and disaster recovery, and the Azure Marketplace," Keane said.

The latest Azure Stack will enable government agencies to move workloads between public, government-only and on-premises cloud environments, Keane said, so they can "rapidly respond to geopolitical developments and cybersecurity threats."

The private cloud environment is geared for powering servers deployed in hot spots in which the military or U.S. embassies operate.

Keane told the Reuters news agency the solution is designed "with the scenario of a submarine in mind."

The government-version of Microsoft 365 -- which bundles Office 365, Windows 10 and Enterprise Mobility + Security—also has been hardened to meet stricter compliance and security standards.

Josh Rice, the general manager for Microsoft’s Worldwide Modern Workplace team, announced general availability for the version of Microsoft 365 running inside the provider's US Government Cloud regions.

That product delivers to government agencies of all sizes "the value of cloud services with the unique compliance commitments for handling controlled unclassified information," Rice said.

Reed M. Wiedower, CTO of New Signature, a Washington, D.C.-based Microsoft partner with a federal government practice, told CRN Microsoft has already done a good job positioning its public cloud offerings, including Azure, for government customers.

The government version of Azure Stack expands on those efforts. It will help agencies so far reluctant to invest heavily in cloud because they perceive an increase in training and readiness "to understand that in the future it’s all going to be cloud development, whether that occurs locally in Azure Stack, in the public Azure cloud, or the government-specific Azure environment," Wiedower said.

And because the secure version of Azure Stack is similar to its commercial predecessor, "gaining familiarity with Azure Stack allows agencies to develop in a cloud-centric way, on-premises, and then move to the government cloud for scaling out or up as necessary," Wiedower said.

Keane said Microsoft hosts workloads for 7,000 U.S. government customers and their partners.

To better support those customers, Microsoft is building two new Azure Government regions in secret locations that support workloads with "a broad spectrum of data classifications," Keane said.

Those regions will provide multi-tenant cloud infrastructure and capabilities to the government's civilian workforce, the Department of Defense, the intelligence community and U.S. Government partners working within secret enclaves.

Microsoft also plans in the coming months to introduce Express Route, the low-latency private link to its public cloud, to government customers in San Antonio, Texas and Phoenix, Ariz.

Microsoft offers the government three unique environments in which data is isolated in the United States in separate physical infrastructure spanning servers, racks, and networks.

Those are Government Community Cloud (GCC) for civilian agencies, GCC High for customers in "highly sensitive situations" and contractors that do business with them, and DoD Cloud for the armed forces.

All three environments "meet the minimum bar for all government-specific regulations, data security, and privacy," Keane said.

Last June, AWS revealed plans to expand the secured and compliant infrastructure it offers public sector customers, as well as those in highly regulated industries, by bringing online a second data center to host its GovCloud sometime this year.

The Eastern U.S. GovCloud region will complement Amazon's only existing GovCloud facility, which is in the Northwest. AWS partners said the stand-alone data center would help them win government business by reducing latency for federal agencies based in Washington D.C. while adding the ability to implement redundancy across regions and more options for disaster recovery.