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Microsoft Azure|Office 365

New Azure Office 365 Regions Go Live in UK

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This post will discuss the effects on administrators of the launch of the new regions for Azure and Office 365 in the United Kingdom (UK).

Announcement

Adoption of cloud services in Europe Union (EU with a population of 508 million people) has been patchy, despite there being two EU-based Azure regions (Dublin and Amsterdam) and four EU-based Office 365 locations (Dublin, Amsterdam, Finland and Austria). This is thanks to:

  • Microsoft being an American corporation.
  • Aggressive attitudes of the USA government towards non-American customer data in American-owned data centres outside of the USA.

Some markets, such as Germany and the UK have not reacted well. In Germany, Microsoft is building 2 Azure regions that will be operated by a German-owned trustee, therefore circumventing USA federal laws.

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The UK is a very interesting situation. Maybe Microsoft had amazing foresight, and maybe they got lucky. Microsoft’s announcement that they had just launched new data center regions in the UK made it clear that they wanted to attract Office 365 and Azure business from British government agencies. But recent events made Microsoft’s new regions even more important. The UK is a large market; it has a population of 64 million, London is one of the world’s financial hubs, and it has the fifth largest economy (GDP) in the world. What’s more, the UK is officially on the path towards leaving the European Union (see “Brexit”) and this uncertain plan might leave this very large market for Microsoft isolated outside of the European Union, from US/EU data agreements, and from the older Microsoft data center regions, depending on how the legal dice land.

What was Launched?

The Microsoft announcements on this aren’t very clear, but I eventually found some clarity after a lot of digging. Three new data center locations were opened:

  • London, in south England. It’s likely near London rather than in London because of property prices and other risks of being in such a large risk zone.
  • Cardiff, in Wales. This might actually be Newport which is close to Cardiff – one of the Azure ExpressRoute POPs is in Newport, which appears to be a hot location for data centers.
  • Durham, in northeast England.

Azure has an additional 2 regions:

  • UK South, in the London facility.
  • UK West in the Cardiff facility.

These regions are paired, meaning that optional replication will be contained within the borders of the UK, as it stands now – the after effects of Brexit might lead to a breakup of the UK into its 4 countries.

Office 365 is located in:

  • The London facility
  • The Durham facility.

If you brose the Office 365 interactive data center map then you’ll see that only Exchange Online and SharePoint Online are available in these regions at this time. Other services such as Skype for Business, Planner, Azure AD, and Dynamics CRM Online are run out of Ireland and Netherlands. Sway and Yammer are actually run out of the United States (not in the EU at all!). Dynamics CRM Online is coming to the UK in early 2017.

Note that Microsoft is the first of the major cloud vendors to open up data centers in the UK. Every other facility in the EU has been either located on the continent or in Ireland.

Impact on Azure

The two new Azure regions are generally available, and should have been available to use to customers immediately. I was able to deploy my first virtual machine in UK West with no issues, but there was some talk that not everyone could see the new UK regions in the Azure Portal – this was a bug, if there was really an issue.

If you view the list of available services in the two UK regions, you’ll notice two things:

  1. Older services, such as the D-Series virtual machines which were succeeded by the Dv2-Series, are not available.
  2. Some “new” services, such as Azure Container Service, HDInsight, and IoT are not available yet.

I don’t expect that older services will be deployed in the new regions – why would Microsoft build Hyper-V hosts from old hardware? If you need the lower prices of older service options, then you’ll need to consider alternative Azure regions.

As for the lack of availability of newer features, this is just a cloud thing. In the world of the cloud, a service provider will get core features operational as quickly as possible, so as to get something into customers’ hands and to generate revenue. Then the service provider starts working on the other elements, and bring them online over time. So don’t despair if you want to do HDInsight in the UK regions – it’s probably just a matter of time until Microsoft has built out the hardware and the software.

What about Office 365?

If you are located in the UK then your data will not be auto-magically moved to the new locations near London and in Durham. Microsoft does not move Office 365 customers when new locations are opened:

Existing customers that have their core customer data stored in an already existing datacenter region are not impacted by the launch of a new datacenter region.

You can request to have your data moved. There are some guidelines:

  • It can take up to 24 months to move your data.
  • Microsoft cannot predict when your data move will complete, because every customer is different.
  • A data move should not affect service availability.

Customers that are new to Office 365 will be automatically located in the new regions if they are suitable:

New customers or Office 365 tenants created after the availability of the new datacenter region will have their core customer data stored at rest in the new data center region automatically.

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Aidan Finn, Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP), has been working in IT since 1996. He has worked as a consultant and administrator for the likes of Innofactor Norway, Amdahl DMR, Fujitsu, Barclays and Hypo Real Estate Bank International where he dealt with large and complex IT infrastructures and MicroWarehouse Ltd. where he worked with Microsoft partners in the small/medium business space.
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