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Ministry of Defence switches to the cloud as Microsoft opens first UK data centres

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Posted: 07 Sep, 2016
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Updated: 08 Sep, 2016
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The Ministry of Defence is moving its computing from the secure military network it has used for the last decade to data centres owned by Microsoft.

From today the MoD will use Microsoft's Office 365 and Azure for its computing rather than the legacy internal servers and Microsoft software that it has used since 2005.  

The announcement comes as Microsoft opens its first UK-based data centres in London, Cardiff and Durham. The centres, which will power the company's online computing services in the UK, will allow businesses and government bodies to ensure their customers' and citizens' information is kept in the country when using Microsoft's Azure and Office 365. 

Cloud computing is often cheaper and more efficient than using aging private servers. But restrictions on where companies can hold data has prevented organisations from moving their businesses onto the cloud, which often involves transferring data away from the country of origin.

For example, the MoD and the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust Foundation, both of which have already started using Microsoft's UK-based cloud, would not have been able to store their data outside of the UK. 

"Right from the start I've felt that for defence the only appropriate place to have our data was here in the UK," said Mike Stone, the MoD's chief digital and information officer. "Technically our data could be held anywhere in the European economic area, but I wouldn't ever want to be in a position where we had data being held elsewhere and this coming under scrutiny."

The move could spark fears for security, as the MoD moves away from the secure military computer network that is currently used by all of the UK's armed forces. 

But Stone said the department takes security seriously and that Microsoft's Azure and Office 365 contain safeguards for the data, such as the Azure Rights Management feature that protects individual documents. 

"There are some very interesting security benefits that come with it," said Stone. 

The South London and Maudsley NHS Trust Foundation is also confident that Microsoft's data centres will keep its patients' information secure. 

"The bottom line is we trust Microsoft," said Stephen Docherty, the chief information officer at the Trust. "It is reassuring to know that our Trust’s core data that we create and manage stays in the UK. For us, the Microsoft’s UK cloud region means that demonstrating regulatory and legal compliance is simpler."

Huge data centres host data and software in the cloud

Huge data centres host data and software in the cloud CREDIT: REX FEATURES

Microsoft, which has more than 100 data centres across the world, is the first international company to build complete cloud data centres in the UK. Google by comparison has 15 data centres, with its European hubs based in Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Finland. 

As the UK government negotiates leaving the European Union, having facilities that can house cloud computing within the country could make Microsoft's centres increasingly popular. 

It is not yet clear how Brexit will affect data sharing between the UK, the European Union and the rest of the world, but Microsoft said it would "continue to comply with the relevant data protection laws". 

Stone also suggested that housing the data in the UK rather than "the more tax efficient areas" could help boost the UK's economy. 

Microsoft is competing with Amazon and Google to offer on-demand cloud services from vast, enormous data centres. The UK is the world's second largest market for cloud computing, which has an estimated worth of just over £3 billion. 

"We're expecting that to more than double over the next few years," said Nicola Hodson, the chief operating officer for Microsoft UK. "We already have a large cloud business in the UK. This just opens up that opportunity to even more customers." 

cr.telegraph.co.uk

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