The truth about Microsoft Azure – and where your data will be kept

Another month goes by and I have some more important updates to the continuing saga of Microsoft’s hosted solutions services. I ought to apologise for banging on for so long about this matter, because I must be starting to sound like a stuck record.

The truth about Microsoft Azure - and where your data will be kept

Actually, no, take that back – I don’t apologise at all, because this is a hugely important subject, over which vendors including Microsoft are taking their customer base for a ride. It isn’t good enough, and you need to know about it.

To do a quick recap for the latecomers, Microsoft is now offering a set of hosted services – Exchange Server, SharePoint, Navision and so forth – in its Cloud of datacenters distributed around the world. This service has now gone live, after a short beta trial period, and has been running for a while for American customers.

Moving your IT infrastructure outside the four walls of your business is a move that needs very careful consideration. Putting your line-of-business applications into a space that you don’t fully control demands that you have really thought through all the risks associated with it.

What is the promised uptime of the proposed service? Is your internet connectivity good enough to support such a move? What about your staffing? What happens for data archiving, backup and recovery? What is the legal framework under which your chosen vendor works?

All of these questions need to be answered positively if you’re to have done even an approximation of due diligence and appropriate business risk analysis.

Of course, these same questions should be applied when hosting your own service in-house. Do you have the appropriate staff available on site or available at short notice? Who is responsible for backup, disaster recovery and archiving? Is the machine room equipment up to the task, including the power feed, air-conditioning and the servers themselves? Who’s going to ensure your servers are kept up to date, and who will fix them?

None of this is rocket science, but the point I’m making is that the management of “in-house” solutions is extremely well understood (even if many companies manage to make a dog’s dinner of its implementation). The real worry is that off-site hosted solutions introduce a whole set of new questions to be answered, many of which aren’t particularly obvious if you’ve been running an in-house solution.

Unobvious problems

One of these unobvious questions is, “Just where is your data going to be kept?”

Microsoft’s documentation has been nothing short of disastrous on this subject – actually, I’d go further and say that the hosted services roll-out in Europe has been the biggest cock-up that I’ve seen in the past 20 years from Microsoft.

The documentation has been a mishmash of American contracts with stuff for the EU/UK deployment. Dig through the website and you’ll end up in a maze of twisting passages, all alike, and then suddenly find yourself emerging into a space that’s clearly designed for the US and not for the UK.

As one small example, you might have started out on Microsoft’s home page, but suddenly you’ll find yourself at http://mocp.microsoftonline.com. It’s that obvious.

Since the business framework for hosted services is so important, I’ve been pushing Microsoft for clarifications for over six months now, and this journey too has become a maze of twisting passages: emails and documents that directly contradict other documents; Microsoft changing the terms and conditions and not telling anyone; and some moves that are frankly bordering on the deceptive. Let me give you an example.

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