Microsoft Grows Its Government Cloud

The company announces two new cloud data center regions and versions of Office 365 and Azure Government for the Department of Defense.

Next year, Microsoft is flipping the switch on two new Azure Government cloud data centers, one in Arizona and the other in Texas, the company announced today. The new facilities will join existing facilities in Virginia and Iowa, draping the Southwest and South Central parts of the United States with lower latency cloud services.

"Now, Microsoft has a total of six dedicated regions for government customers—significantly more than any other cloud provider," Jason Zander, corporate vice president of Microsoft Azure, said in an Oct. 18 announcement. "Combined with dedicated Government ExpressRoute options, Microsoft offers government agencies broad choice of where they host their data and where they connect directly to Microsoft's infrastructure."

Zander also revealed that Microsoft is readying Department of Defense-specific versions of Office 365 and Azure. Delivered from two regions and physically isolated from the company's commercial cloud, these offerings will provide military branches and other Defense Department with high-security access to Office software and Azure cloud services by the end of 2016, he added. Department of Defense networks will connect via ExpressRoute, Microsoft's private and secure link to Azure, which bypasses the public internet.

Last week, Microsoft announced the Azure Blueprint program, a resource that government agencies can use to plan secure and compliant cloud deployments. The documents offer guidance to IT workers on rolling out services for their agencies that conform to some the U.S. federal government's stringent data security standards. "The initial release includes documentation to assist Azure customers with documenting their security control implementations as part of their individual agency ATO [Authority to Operate] processes," explained Nate Johnson, a Microsoft senior manager, in an Oct. 12 announcement.

"The FedRAMP Moderate baseline Customer Responsibility Matrix (CRM) and System Security Plan (SSP) template are designed for use by Program Managers, Information System Security Officers (ISSO), and other security personnel who are documenting system-specific security controls within Azure Cloud," continued Johnson. Updated CRM and SSP templates that address FedRAMP High and DISA (Defense Information Systems Agency) Impact Levels 4 and 5 are in the works, he added.

Since its late-2014 launch, Microsoft's government cloud has made solid progress in getting government agencies to embrace cloud-enabled IT operations and software services.

Azure Government's client roster includes more than 7,000 federal, state and municipal government customers, said Zander. Over 6 million government-affiliated workers use the cloud app and services suite.

Law enforcement agencies are also jumping onboard, reported Zander. "Microsoft has signed Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) agreements in 23 states, covering more than 60 percent of the U.S. population."

The competition isn't sitting still. Earlier this year, IBM announced that it had been authorized to deliver cloud services at the highest security levels after the U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) cleared its IBM Cloud for Impact Level 5 workloads.

Last month, Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced it had signed CJIS agreements with the Oregon and Louisiana. This past summer, AWS GovCloud was awarded DISA Impact Level 4 authorization and Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder and CEO, joined the Department of Defense's Innovation Advisory Board.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the Internet.com network of...