Collaboration is easy to say but much harder to achieve, especially when it comes to finding common platforms. Microsoft’s Azure platform, now certified as Protected by the Australian Signals Directorate, is about to change that equation.
In the early days of cloud computing, the most commonly trumpeted selling point was the potential for huge technology infrastructure savings by migrating from in-house or outsourced and onto the virtualised platforms that tech giants could provide.
But as the idea of cheaper access to computing power has inevitably become commonplace, the smartest operators in both the public and private sector have worked out that it’s about a lot more than money.
The real winners in the cloud era are those organisations that can harness and exploit the new possibilities that are opened up but are still built on the same foundations rather than going for a wholesale rip and replace.
Seize the blue sky by staying real
When years, even decades have been invested in ecosystems of hardware, tools, and applications, it’s not just as simple as starting again from scratch. Cloud needs to reflect the real world needs of users and what they use.
And that’s before very real security mandates and data sovereignty requirements come into play, an important risk assessment consideration for governments worldwide.
What’s changed in the past year is that Microsoft’s world-leading cloud services, offering unparalleled opportunities for innovation and modernisation of government services, are continuing to invest in new infrastructure in Australia. Azure is opening new opportunities for responsible, secure cloud adoption and demonstrating commitment to partnership with Australian government.
Here, now and everywhere
In April, Microsoft announced that it had become the first global cloud provider to be awarded certification for Protected classified government data by the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), an accreditation that applies to more than 30 services across both Azure and Office 365.
To those outside the parameters of government security requirements, Protected status might sound like an incremental technical development, but within the public sector it’s the tip of the spear when it comes to unleashing a more efficient and responsive way of working.
When it comes to the longer term ramifications for improved innovation from individual agencies and cross-jurisdictional collaboration, a Protected certified cloud that embraces much of government’s existing application and architecture ecosystem changes the game.
Infrastructure becomes an accelerator, not a handbrake
Infrastructure management hurdles have, for decades, restricted jurisdictions, agencies and stakeholders working together productively to achieve common goals. Not just at the interoperability and legacy level, but in terms of splitting the bill for who does what, on what and where.
Disputes and distrust about who owns a process or data, and very justifiable concerns that the lax security or privacy provisions of others have also slowed the best of intentions in policy and project design.
Anyone in doubt of this need only read successive audit reports on technology management which contain plenty of sound governance advice, but fewer real world technical solutions.
Again, that legacy environment has changed for good.
With new Azure infrastructure now available in Canberra, complimenting existing cloud regions in Sydney and Melbourne, the playing field has finally been levelled in the most positive fashion.
Keeping the opportunity real
At the heart of the unique opportunity that’s now before government and enterprise is the ability to locate existing specialised and legacy systems, private clouds, customised networking and trusted partner solutions within the same facilities, connected directly to Azure.
As well as public sector operations, approved critical national infrastructure clients including banks, utilities, telecommunications, healthcare, transport and other sectors will be admitted to the Azure Australia Central region in Canberra.
This option for co-location could mean banks better able to share financial data patterns with law enforcement agencies or collaborate in real time with the Australian Taxation Office or AUSTRAC.
Meeting the need
Microsoft Australia managing director Steven Worrall said its cloud services were now giving executives in both public and private sector organisations what they had been crying out for.
This means the opportunity to access world leading tech services and applications for departments and the ability for commercial companies of all sizes to become trusted government suppliers.
“Across our nation, we see government, healthcare and education organisations all driving forward with their digital transformation initiatives,” Mr Worrall said.
“We hear from them the need for Microsoft to deliver rapid innovation and unleash the possibilities and creativity that only the cloud can provide. But also, to do that in a way that provides the highest levels of assurance in security, privacy and resilience.
“We’re listening and are committed to delivering both the innovation and the trusted platform our customers and partners demand.”
Security uplift raises government’s value
Azure Engineering Lead for Microsoft Australia James Kavanagh said government agencies had indicated that they greatly valued the security credentials of the Azure data centres, which are managed and run by Australian-owned Canberra Data Centres.
While the desire had been there for some time to leverage public cloud for both intra- and inter-agency initiatives, he said the obligation to tick the necessary compliance boxes had often prevented full cooperation.
The new Azure regions are intended to serve both Unclassified and Protected data, with the appropriate controls at the personnel, physical, information and governance level.
“Our investment in physical, personnel and software security and our understanding of the sophisticated requirements of Australian government has been a major factor in our decision to offer these regions,” Mr. Kavanagh said.
“Australian government quite rightly has sophisticated compliance processes and controls for Protected-classified data – controls that we have designed to exceed in Canberra.”
For government, the ability to collaboratively execute on blue sky thinking and create lasting solutions to wicked problems now has a bright future.