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MoD cuts through competition barriers to sign direct private cloud deal with Microsoft

The Ministry of Defence has justified its decision to directly award Microsoft a 23-month private cloud deal by stating the firm is the only one able to meet its precise technical and data protection needs

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has signed a 23-month, £17.75m private cloud contract with Microsoft without entertaining bids from any other providers, it has emerged.

Confirmation of the deal follows the publication of a contract award notice by the MoD Information Systems and Services (ISS) commercial sourcing team, which sets out its intention to award the “support, maintenance and consultancy” service contract to Microsoft.

The deal is set to run for 23 months from 1 June 2020 through to 30 April 2022, with the organisation confirming the contract was not subject to competing bids, on the basis the services sought by the MoD could only be provided by Microsoft.

“It is considered that this contract can be placed using the negotiated procedure without prior publication of a contract notice… on the basis that the services provided for in the contract can be supplied only by the contractor [Microsoft], and that competition is absent, for technical reasons,” the contract notice stated.

“The contractor alone has the specific technical knowledge and skills necessary to undertake the services as they own and have developed the relevant software products and applications used by the authority in connection with its operations.”

Specifically, the MoD will be leaning on Microsoft to create a “bespoke” Azure-based private cloud infrastructure, the notice goes on to state, that will mark out the ministry as “the first and largest customer in the UK and Europe running UK-hosted Azure services in the cloud”.

“The MoD requirement mandates data sovereignty and reliability and this non-negotiable requirement can only be supported by Microsoft for these services at this scale”
MoD contract notice

It also goes on to flesh out the technical reasons why the organisation had not sought bids from any other provider for this project, with the MoD ISS team citing data protection concerns, alongside the need for direct access to specialist Microsoft cloud personnel and developers to deliver it.

“The MoD requirement mandates data sovereignty and reliability and this non-negotiable requirement can only be supported by Microsoft for these services at this scale,” the contract notice stated.

“We have the evidence that by having direct links to product developers, we have been able to solve issues with the service that are unique to MoD’s future requirements. At the same time, there are several key initiatives that only Microsoft has the knowledge breadth and skills depth to deliver the scope of work.”

The MoD is a long-standing Microsoft cloud user, and was among the first organisations to emerge as a reference customer for the firm when it opened its first UK datacentres in September 2016.

Such is the depth of its ties with the company, the MoD is privy to preview releases for forthcoming Microsoft cloud services, and is – it claims – one of only a handful of organisations around the world to have access to such benefits.

“Having this early exposure gives the MoD the opportunity to influence and shape the products to suit our future defence needs – we will not get this access without a direct relationship with Microsoft,” the contract notice added.

“Without Microsoft direct support the level of technical risk to the MoD’s transition from existing monolithic contract arrangements would be too high to be appropriate for [the MoD].”

Microsoft ramps up availability of Azure services from UK datacentres

Meanwhile, in other Microsoft-related news, the company has separately set out plans to ramp up the number of public cloud services hosted in its UK Azure datacentre regions to help subscribers shore up the security of their enterprise IT deployments.

The company has rolled out 10 new services to UK-based Azure users, including offerings geared towards supporting enterprises that are looking to build new and manage existing internet of things (IoT) deployments, as well as incorporate bot technology into their service offering for users.

However, many of the remaining services it is introducing have a cyber security focus, including the availability of the Azure Private Link service, which will enable users to connect to public cloud services hosted in Microsoft’s UK datacentres without having to rely on public internet connections.

The company launched a preview of the service in September 2019, which allows users to consume Microsoft public cloud services through their own Azure Virtual Network (VNet) for data security and resiliency purposes.

Another new addition to the UK portfolio of public cloud services includes Azure Confidential Computing, which is designed to ensure that customer data is not only secure while at rest in the datacentre and in transit across network, but also while it is being put to use as well.

“This means it is possible for multiple organisations to combine their datasets and analyse them without being able to access each other’s data,” the company said, in a blog post, announcing the services.

“Banks could use Confidential Computing to combine transaction data to detect fraud and money laundering, and hospitals could combine patient records for analysis to improve the diagnosis of diseases.”

The roll-out of these services comes weeks after Microsoft said it was taking steps to “expedite” the creation of new datacentre capacity within Europe, as the onset of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic had caused a surge in enterprise demand for its public cloud services

It has also publicly committed to investing $1bn in the creation of an Azure region in Poland, and has also recently unveiled plans to invest $1.5bn over five years in growing its cloud presence within Italy, which will include the creation of its first in-country cloud region there too.

Michael Wignall, Azure business lead at Microsoft UK, said the emergence of these services was proof of its commitment to supporting enterprises through the pandemic.  

“Microsoft continues to invest in our UK Azure regions to meet the growing needs of our customers. Azure is helping organisations, both large and small, adapt to a new way of working, and our cloud experts continue to help them at this challenging time,” he said.

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