A Guide to Microsoft Azure: Should I Use Azure Data Centres?

August 16th 2019 / By David Smetana

In September 2016, Microsoft was officially declared as the first global public cloud provider to offer a complete and trusted cloud solution from data centres in the UK.

This news was well received. We immediately saw the adoption of some of the services from well-established, big brands such as Aston Martin along with British Government Departments and the NHS.

Further to the data centre services offered in the UK, the tech giant announced earlier this year that they are expanding their cloud services. Microsoft will be opening data centres in Switzerland and the UAE due to growing customer demand.

Before we launch into the benefits and capabilities of an Azure Data Centre, let us first provide a little more information…

What is a data centre?

A data centre is a centralised, dedicated location, which is used to house networking and computing equipment. The data centre is often used for collecting, storing and processing large volumes of data. It is also often referred to as the ‘public cloud’.

Within these data centres will be thousands of powerful servers. These servers run 24/7 providing hosting services for websites and email, whilst also enabling e-commerce transactions and, most importantly to Chalkline and our clients, cloud storage and applications.

When we refer to documents and information being stored in ‘the cloud’, we mean that it is stored in these off-premise servers, located in data centres, which are part of an organisation’s local network.

There are a few Microsoft data centres in the UK, located in London, Durham and Cardiff, providing local versions of Azure services that allow users to store their data and offload processing tasks.

Why are UK data centres important?

The Microsoft announcement was so significant in 2016 because many businesses and organisations were becoming increasingly concerned about the geographic location of their data. With GDPR now a top concern, companies who are looking to migrate to the cloud are often keen to know where their data is and whether it is being kept within sovereign borders.

The physical location of a data centre impacts speed and latency, as does the data protection laws in which it resides under.

When it comes to data residency and compliance, Microsoft has always maintained that customers should control their own data. They have previously stated that they will not disclose customer data in the Microsoft Cloud to a government or law enforcement agency except as directed to do so, or where required by law.

One example of Microsoft’s integrity to this is when they were held, at their own request, in contempt of court for failing to comply with an order to give US authorities access to customer emails housed in a data centre in Dublin, Ireland. This demonstrates just how serious Microsoft are about security and data. In fact, they spend over $1 billion dollars on cybersecurity each year.

Microsoft Azure data centres

Microsoft data centres allow companies to host their web development and data in the UK while also running the full suite of productivity apps in Office 365. Dynamics 365 became available through Microsoft UK data centres in 2017 and, from this point, businesses were able to take advantage of the most complete cloud solution with a comprehensive set of cloud-based business solutions.

For example, several Azure Services have been introduced to Microsoft’s UK-based data centres; one we feel is worth highlighting is Power BI. This cloud-based business analytics service enables users to connect to, visualise and analyse data with greater speed, efficiency and understanding. Individuals are connected to a broad range of live data through intuitive dashboards and the platform provides interactive reports and delivers compelling visualisations to bring that data to life.

UK data centres also enable Microsoft to offer its online suite of Office 365 apps without sending its data overseas.

Having data stored locally reassures businesses that any data created and managed in the platform stays in the UK. It also means that they can easily demonstrate regulatory and legal compliance.

Azure data centre security  

A layered approach to security is demonstrated by Microsoft. Although we may automatically think of cybersecurity when we think of data centres, physical security is a priority for Microsoft too.

Those requesting physical access to data centres are required to apply before their visit, providing a valid business justification. Visitors are only granted permission to discrete areas of the centre and this is only valid for a specific length of time.

The buildings themselves are surrounded by fences comprised of steel and concrete, with well-defined access points. They are also staffed by security officers.

Once inside the building, we begin to see Microsoft’s innovative technology come into play. Those who enter the building are required to pass two-factor authentication with biometrics to move through the data centre and the system only grants access to specific areas of the building. Upon leaving, you must pass through a full body metal detection screening.

In conclusion

In a 2016 a report was commissioned by Microsoft, and carried out by Forrester Consulting, to determine the potential return on investment that businesses could secure by using Microsoft Azure. The business model that was developed using the findings reported a 466% ROI and reduction of 80% spent on IT administration.

In switching to Microsoft Azure, businesses not only gain peace of mind when it comes to the security and sovereignty of their data held in UK data centres but they also stand to gain from the benefits offered through a PaaS (Platform-As-A-Service) environment. In addition to increased security, firms are able to use Microsoft Azure to refocus their time and efforts away from IT administration and instead focus on their core business.

Businesses can use the platform to streamline and automate processes helping them to become more efficient, productive and, overall, profitable.

To learn more about the benefits of Microsoft Azure, please read our blog. Alternatively, if you would like to speak to a member of the team about migrating to the Microsoft cloud, please do get in touch.

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