Microsoft extends Azure's reach to China, Japan, and Australia

CEO Steve Ballmer pledges heavy investment in China as part of the deal to set up a cloud shop within the country

Seeking to pad its billion(ish)-dollar Azure business with yuan, yen, and dollarydoos, Microsoft will invest hundreds of millions of dollars to expand its hybrid cloud platform to China, Japan, and Australia. The move, which makes Microsoft the first multinational organization to make public cloud services available in China, represents a significant investment in the company's cloud strategy.

Microsoft has poured ample resources into Azure of late, and understandably so: The enterprise cloud market is lucrative, and given the company's struggles on the desktop and mobile fronts, it can't afford to fall behind in the cloud. Leveraging its international reach to stake grounds in far-off lands should give Microsoft a critical advantage over cloud competitors like Amazon Web Services, which has struggled to penetrate the Chinese market.

"With IDC forecasting that Asia's cloud computing market will reach $16.3 billion by 2016 (excluding Japan), we're working hard to bring these new Windows Azure regions and Windows Azure in China," wrote Satya Nadella, president of the Microsoft's server and tools business. "Together with our global network and existing locations in Singapore and Hong Kong, these new locations will help us satisfy the enormous cloud computing needs of the Asia region and the world."

Microsoft has been working hard to groom Azure for its worldwide expansion, too. Just last month, Microsoft made a flurry of announcements surrounding the platform, including the general availability of Windows Azure IaaS (infrastructure as a service) and Windows Azure Virtual Networks. The company also has taken pains to widen Azure's mobile platform support outside of its own operating systems, starting with iOS and Android. Further, the company has made it easier to deploy and manage Hadoop clusters and integrate more mobile apps with the cloud platform. Microsoft has added the ability for pure HTML5 and Cordova/PhoneGap apps to use Windows Azure for data storage and authentication too.

Though Microsoft has sunk at least $1 billion into China in the past, the company has been vague as to just how much money it's pouring into China this time around for the privilege of setting up an Azure shop there. Company CEO Steve Ballmer said only that "as part of that commitment, we are making significant investments in China -- people, resources, technology, and partnerships."

Ballmer did reveal plans to expand its core Chinese workforce of 4,000 employees by "several thousand," according to Bloomberg.

One apparent caveat to bringing Azure to China was to allow China-based data center services provider 21Vianet operate it. According to the agreement between Microsoft and 21Vianet, "Microsoft provides 21Vianet with the rights to operate and provide Windows Azure services in China. Windows Azure, operated by 21Vianet, will provide customers in China with cloud computing services including compute, storage, database, integration, connectivity, and support for open source software."

Notably, China isn't on the United States' most trusted list these days, given the accusations that the Chinese government has been sponsoring cyber-espionage attacks against American organizations.

Microsoft isn't stopping with China. The company also revealed plans to add two domestic data centers in Japan -- one near Tokyo and one in the Kansai region -- to better deliver Azure-based services. The goal is to speed response times and improve reliability in the face of natural disasters.

Azure competes in Japan with offerings like Amazon's EC2 infrastructure as well as local providers. The platform has garnered a reputation for being slower than rival offerings, however.

Beyond Asia, Microsoft has announced plans for two Azure data centers in Australia -- one in New South Wales, and one in Victoria. "These two locations will be geo-redundant, offering our customers the ability to back up their data across two separate locations, both within Australia," wrote Toby Bowers, head of Microsoft Australia's server and tools group. "We know that providing disaster recovery, while ensuring data sovereignty goals are met, is critical to many of our customers, and we look forward to delivering a solution that meets those requirements."

Once both sites become fully operational, Microsoft teams will assist with the application, virtual machine, and services migration process.

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