Microsoft opens UK cloud data centres backed by MoD

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The Ministry of Defence and the NHS are amongst those signed up to use Microsoft’s UK-based cloud infrastructure

Microsoft has launched its first UK-based data centres to support cloud services such as Office 365, with the Ministry of Defence and the NHS among its initial customers.

Redmond’s move means organisations can deploy cloud services while keeping their data within the country’s borders, a key factor for public-sector and regulated bodies.

MoD Cloud Shift

Defence Army Forces MoDAmazon said last year it is also planning UK data centres, but hasn’t yet provided a launch date.

Microsoft said its Azure cloud platform and Office 365 cloud-based productivity suite are available now, with Dynamics CRM Online to arrive in the first half of next year. The new data centres are located in London, Durham and Cardiff.

The MoD, which employs about 250,000 people, will be the most complex IT operation to shift onto Microsoft’s cloud. It has announced plans to shift the entire department onto Office 365 within one calendar year.

“This agreement will allow us to deliver cost-effective, modern and flexible information capabilities,” said MoD chief digital and information officer Mike Stone.

Initially, MoD staff will not be allowed to store classified documents on Microsoft’s cloud, but that restriction could be relaxed over time, Stone said.

telemedicine-185x183 health doctor NHSNHS ‘Trust’

South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, the country’s largest mental health trust, has also agreed to use Microsoft’s UK data centres, with the organisation saying it “trusts” Microsoft.

Other new customers include Aston Martin, Capita and Rosslyn Analytics, as well as smaller organisations such as independent software vendor Careflow Connect.

Microsoft said its infrastructure is already used by UK organisations including Glasgow City Council, Marks & Spencer,, Natural Resources Wales, Pizza Hut Restaurants and Virgin Atlantic.

Some private- and public-sector organisations have baulked at storing their sensitive data on third-party systems, but the MoD’s example may help such groups see the cloud as a safe option, according to industry analyst Kable.

“Microsoft has a perfect exemplar to demonstrate the benefits of 365, particularly in the public sector,” said Kable analyst Daniel Jones in a research note. “In return, the MoD has been able to push Microsoft at the highest levels to deliver, for example, providing asynchronous cloud for service delivery on submarines.”

Jones highlighted that the MoD, like other public-sector organisations, has resisted shifting its data infrastructure to any third party, but has had to take a more commercially-minded approach in the face of budget pressures.

Brexit in the Background

Microsoft said it expects legal services, banking, utilities and other regulated sectors to be drawn to its UK-based cloud services.

The company’s Office 365 is growing in popularity, but overall its cloud services lag behind those of Amazon, which commanded about 31 percent of the worldwide cloud infrastructure market between April and June, in comparison to Microsoft’s 11 percent, according to Synergy Research.

The British data centres aren’t directly connected with the UK’s exit from the EU, with the MoD having approached Microsoft about the project two years ago, but the shift could spur more UK-based infrastructure, industry observers have suggested.

Amazon recently said it doesn’t expect the change to affect its UK data centre plans.