Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Saturday, August 13, 2022

Microsoft Expands Azure Cloud for Government 


Microsoft is releasing new cloud services as part of its public-sector push that would allow military and government users to share sensitive and classified data across internal and cloud platforms. The hybrid offering was among a list of new government services announced this week that also includes new platforms for handling sensitive workloads and the launch of several new Azure cloud secret regions.

Microsoft unveiled the new government services during a company event in Washington, DC, on Monday (March 5).

Microsoft Azure Stack is billed as a hybrid cloud service that would allow local and federal agencies to move among public and government clouds as well as on-premise servers. The company said Azure Stack would be integrated with the Azure government cloud by the middle of 2018. The integration would allow Defense Department agencies, for example, to extend cloud services to field offices and even the battlefield, the company noted in a blog post.

“Quite literally we’ve designed Azure Stack with the scenario of a submarine in mind,” Tom Keane, Microsoft Azure’s head of global infrastructure told Reuters.

Among the potential intelligence and military applications, the largest federal markets for Microsoft and rival Amazon Web Services (NASDAQ: AMZN), is the ability to gather and analyze intelligence in the field using satellite connections. Combining Azure Stack with the company’s government cloud would allow federal users to meet regulatory requirements for handling classified data and “special access programs, Microsoft said.

The company’s government cloud is authorized to handle restricted data under DoD guidelines for infrastructure services. Hence, it is adding new platform services designed for “highly sensitive” cloud workloads. Among the authorized services is an SQL server database that along with application development tools would allow government customers to build applications and move data between internal servers to the cloud while scaling virtual machines.

As it locks horns with AWS to provide federal cloud services, Microsoft also is leveraging its installed base of productivity and other software services to expand its Azure cloud footprint. Along with the localized Azure Stack, Microsoft also said it is expanding to eight the number of government cloud regions for managing data ranging from unclassified to sensitive to secret.

The Pentagon has stepped up certification of commercial cloud providers at various security levels under the Federal Risk and Authorization Management, or FedRAMP, program. Those certifications have resulted in a series of large commercial cloud contracts, including a $1 billion Air Force contract awarded to a team that includes Dell EMC and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT).

Microsoft announced plans last fall to expand its government cloud to support classified workloads while adding new technologies such as blockchain digital transaction ledgers and support for high-performance computing. Microsoft noted that its Azure Government is among a handful of enterprise cloud platforms certified at DoD's "Level 5" security rating for handling secret government data.

CSRA Inc. (NYSE:CSRA), a cloud provider based in Falls Church, Va., said this week it has also gained a Level 5 security rating.

--Editor's note: This story has been updated.



About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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