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Microsoft UK datacentre plans win backing of government CTO Liam Maxwell

Government CTO Liam Maxwell speaks out about the role Whitehall's played in convincing Microsoft and others to open UK datacentres

HM Government chief technology officer (CTO) Liam Maxwell has talked up the role Whitehall has played in getting the likes of Microsoft and Amazon Web Services (AWS) to commit to opening UK-based datacentres.

Just days after AWS set out its plans to open a UK datacentre, arch-rival Microsoft announced a similar move to support the delivery of its commercial cloud services at its Future Decoded event in London on 10 November 2015.

The region will be operational in the 2016 calendar year and will provide immediate access to its public cloud Azure platform and Office 365, said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella during his keynote address.

“I’m very pleased to announce the expansion of our public cloud in Europe, and the coming of our cloud region to the UK in calendar year 2016. This marks a huge milestone and commitment on our part to make sure we build the most hyper-scale public cloud that operates worldwide with more regions than anyone else,” he said.

Nadella also confirmed the latest phase of its datacentre expansion plans in Ireland and the Netherlands are completed, as it looks to respond to the growing demand for its cloud services across mainland Europe in an “intelligent” way.

“It’s about building out the cloud infrastructure that will fuel the next generation of applications that everyone from every company, from startup to small business to larger business to public sector, all write – and to do that with a true distributed computing play,” he said.

“It is of course going to be backed by our own public cloud, which is running at hyperscale, but also supporting true hybrid cloud deployment because we understand the realities of power consumption, speed of light and regulation are all issues, and you need flexibility of choice to get the infrastructure you need.”

Government role in securing UK datacentre investment

In a post-keynote Q&A with the press, government CTO Maxwell welcomed the news, before revealing details about the work that has been going on behind the scenes for some time to entice AWS, Microsoft and others to set up their cloud stalls in the UK.

“We’ve been trying for around three years to get both of those companies to invest in the UK. We have had a long series of discussions to encourage them to do so as we see the UK as a really good market, principally, if you think about it in terms of cyber hygiene and cyber health. We’re better than most countries, and it’s the best place to do business online,” said Maxwell.

“It’s one of the best places to land business from the US, China and Korea, and we’ve always wanted to have an effective region-scale datacentre structure with the major players.”

The whole of the public sector stand to benefit from having local access to the cloud services, not just Whitehall, he added.

“We’re very happy we’ve got it, and it’s got great implications for business, local government and for lots of people who have always found the issue of data sovereignty and data location to be troubling,” he said.

“It’s going to be liberating for IT folk in the public sector, not just in central government, but all the way across. It opens up an enormous market for them, and we’ve been talking with them [providers] for a long time.”

That being said, Maxwell was keen to play down the idea that AWS and Microsoft’s UK datacentre investment has been directly spurred by the recent Safe Harbour ruling, which saw the data-sharing agreement between the US and Europe scrapped by the European Court of Justice.  

“We have no control over the Safe Harbour decision coming along at the same time, but we see this as a positive thing in that light, and it is helpful. It’s certainly not a case that one has driven the other. This has been a long conversation,” he said. 

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