Microsoft has announced an expansion of its public cloud presence in Europe with new data centres to be based in the UK, slated to begin operations from late 2016. The move follows hard on the heels of a similar announcement by cloud giant Amazon Web Services (AWS) last week.
The announcement that Microsoft is to add UK-based data centres was made by chief executive Satya Nadella, during a keynote speech at the firm's Future Decoded event in London.
"I'm very pleased to announce the expansion of our public cloud in Europe. There are two parts to this: the first is the completion of the expansion of our data centre regions in the Netherlands and in Ireland, and the coming of our cloud region to the UK in calendar year 2016," Nadella said.
"This marks a huge milestone and a commitment on our part to make sure that we build the most hyperscale public cloud that operates around the world, with more regions than anyone else, so giving our customers, from startups to small business to public sector organisations, more choice to be able to build their applications," he added.
Microsoft will offer its Azure and Office 365 services from the UK region initially, with Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online to follow. The move is set to offer local data residency for customers based here in the UK, bringing world-class reliability and performance to government organisations, regulated industries and other businesses, Microsoft said.
Data sovereignty is becoming a big issue for service providers, especially in light of the recent European Court of Justice ruling regarding the Safe Harbour framework for exporting data to the US. This reason, as well as the ability to provide low-latency access to cloud services, is a likely factor both in Microsoft's decision and that of AWS to site new data centres closer to UK customers.
As with the AWS announcement, the government chief technology officer, Liam Maxwell, issued a statement welcoming the move as an endorsement of the UK digital economy.
"It's great to hear that Microsoft is providing commercial cloud services from the UK for the first time," he said.
"Not only will this mean a significant investment in the UK economy, but means more healthy competition and innovation in the UK data centre market. This is good news for the UK government given the significant amount of data we hold that needs to be kept onshore."
Elsewhere in his keynote, Nadella discussed familiar Microsoft themes of "mobile first, cloud first" and the reinvention of productivity using technology.
"Everything we do, all the products that we build, all of the innovation agenda we have, how we interact with customers and partners, starts with this mission of empowering every individual and organisation on the planet to achieve more," he said.
However, Nadella added nuance to the picture, saying that Microsoft's vision of mobility was more about the mobility of experience for the end user, as in what the firm is trying to deliver with Windows 10, where users should be able to access the same data and applications regardless of what Windows device they log into.
Nadella said that productivity is more than just about business processes, but about helping users to get more out of every moment. "We think of productivity in the broadest sense, of really helping people to get more out of their time," he explained.
Microsoft is also looking to empower users through new tools around analytics and machine learning, with services like Cortana Analytics and Azure ML.
"The idea is to put these very sophisticated pieces of technology, that we developed internally for our own use in many cases, all of that at-scale applied machine learning is now available to every startup, every developer in an enterprise to be able to build this next generation of data-driven apps," Nadella said.
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