Will Microsoft Land the Federal Market with Azure Government

Remember when Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced his Cloud First Mobile First strategy? He really wasn’t joking.

On Monday, he announced a new hybrid cloud initiative with Accenture. Last night, he announced that Microsoft’s Azure Government cloud is now generally available, and that Dynamics CRM Online for government will be available next month.

This follows hot on the heels of the recent announcement that Office 365 for Government has been awarded some major security certifications and that the Feds are now happy to work with it.  

Microsoft For Feds

Taking the two together, Microsoft cloud offerings for government are substantial, to say the least, even if it has been pretty slow in developing these kinds of products.

By contrast, Amazon first offered  its AWS GovCloud service in 2011 and has been fighting with IBM for lucrative public contracts like the $600 million deal Amazon scored in June 2013 with the CIA. And that’s only one contract, with a lot more to be had, as many federal agencies wait for the green light to implement cloud solutions.

With that in mind, Microsoft has been building out Office 365 for government. Last month it secured Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) certification -- FedRAMP being a government-wide program that provides a standardized approach to security assessment, authorization and continuous monitoring for cloud products.

The bottom line is if you don’t get FedRAMP approval, you don’t get into government agencies. And as we have seen in the past, many private companies look to these public sector standards as a way of judging the suitability of given products for private use.

Azure Government

Office 365 is, however, only part of what is on offer with yesterday’s announcement. According to a statement from Microsoft, the general availability of Azure Government -- it has been in preview for the past year -- comes with public sector security, privacy and compliance standards and was built from the ground up to ensure that none of the data that lands on the cloud is ever contaminated by contact with the private sector.

Azure Government provides all kinds of computing capabilities for even the most paranoid of government operatives. It offers integrated services such as compute resources, storage, data, networking and applications, all of which are hosted in Microsoft data centers located within the US and managed by cleared US personnel.

It is also massively flexible, which is an added incentive for government agencies as it means it can operate as a hybrid, hyperscaling platform that offers enterprise-grade solutions enabling agencies to run the operating systems, languages and application of choice in Microsoft’s government cloud, public cloud or their own datacenter.

On top of this, all the components of the Azure Government service are isolated physically and in respect of networks, with redundant data centers located at least 500 miles apart.

2014-12-10 microsoft azure government.jpg

Dynamics CRM Online For Gov

Finally, and as the other element of yesterday’s announcement , Microsoft says its Dynamics CRM Online for Government is now ready and will be generally available in January.

Like Azure Government, which is based on the Azure public cloud, Microsoft Dynamics’ public cloud offering, is designed for FedRAMP compliance and operated by cleared government personnel.

Dynamics users will be able to use existing on-premises investments and integrate with Azure and Office 365 government community clouds to ensure anytime, anywhere access to public sector applications and workflows in a secure environment.

With the announcement only just over the starting line, Microsoft says it has already achieved some notable federal wins. They include the state of Texas which recently deployed over 110,000 seats of Office 365 Government to modernize email, communications and collaboration platforms across its agencies and departments.

Healthy Contract

The state of Alabama is deploying Office 365 Government and a hybrid cloud initiative involving Azure Government to host and manage Alabama Medicaid’s entire Health Information Exchange, while the U.S. Navy is deploying Office 365 to a first wave of 8,000 Navy reservists, providing them with new mobility options and access to the collaboration and communication tools needed to do their job.

If Microsoft joined the public sector race relatively late in the game, it has caught up with its competitors with remarkable speed. With this offering, it’s likely to make a lot more progress, especially as Micosoft’s other products are already widely used across federal agencies.

Yes, cloud computing and storing public data in the cloud is considerably more sensitive than using Microsoft Office, for example. But users are already familiar with MS products and with the various stamps of approval and security from a number of federal certifications.

Title image by KonstantinL / Shutterstock