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Taking the Battle to Amazon: Microsoft’s Azure Government Top Secret Cloud

Will it pave the way for future US government contracts with top-secret data hosting requirements?

Over the last two years, conversations around cloud technology have been dominated by empowering enterprise employees to work from home at scale. More recently, there has been a shift towards building a new future with hybrid working from any device, location, and time. But one area that has been neglected is the public sector which includes the military and intelligence community. 

In December last year, Microsoft teased a new suite of products for Governments in a new Top Secret Cloud. With intelligence data moving to the cloud, big tech companies are racing to secure lucrative contracts. However, many thought that Microsoft's move was too little and too late when the National Security Agency (NSA) awarded a $10 billion secret cloud computing contract with the codename WildandStormy to Amazon Web Services. 

Microsoft quickly filed a bid to protest the decision. Despite coming a long way in competing with Amazon, the inconvenient truth is that Microsoft was still playing catch-up in the eyes of many. Unperturbed, Microsoft's Azure announced that Azure Government Top Secret was available a few weeks later. The counter move was clearly to pave the way for future bids for US government contracts with top-secret data hosting requirements.

The announcement could have been perceived as a love letter to government agencies with enough jargon to win a game of buzzword bingo.

The announcement stated, “Azure Government Secret, provides further evidence of Microsoft's relentless commitment to the mission of national security, enabling customers and partners to realize the vision of a multi-cloud strategy and achieve greater agility, interoperability, cost savings, and speed to innovation.”

New Azure Government Top Secret services also include Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS), Azure Functions, and Azure App Service. The new suite is aimed at government agencies and those working with highly sensitive data. A Microsoft blog post advises that it will empower them to “deliver modern innovation such as containerized applications, serverless workloads with automated and flexible scaling, and web apps supported by built-in infrastructure maintenance and security patching.”

Microsoft Azure clouds

Why collaboration between public and private sectors is crucial

The private sector has been adopting emerging technologies and new digital ways of working for many years. By contrast, Government agencies and the notoriously complex system of public services are beginning to appear dangerously dated in a digital world. As a result, the public sector has reached a tipping point where they must overhaul the long list of outdated systems and begin accelerating their digital transformations.

For too long, the public sector has resisted collaborating with private companies.

But it's no secret that collaboration holds the keys to embracing new ideas, driving innovation, and exploring new solutions to old problems. Moreover, only by working together can the public sector begin to tackle the pressing challenges of building future public services that can be accessed seamlessly across multiple devices.

It's currently unclear if Microsoft Intelligent Security Association (MISA) will allow partners to work with Azure Government Top Secret. But this is just one of many questions. With recent vulnerabilities affecting everything from the Print Spooler and Office365 to allowing unauthorized access to Azure infrastructure, there are still many concerns about governments, businesses, or individuals keeping any secrets in the cloud.

The battle for a slice of the public sector pie

Microsoft has also revealed that it would be combining its federal team with its cloud unit. After losing an NSA contract to Amazon combined with a two years legal dispute when the Pentagon cancelled the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud procurement, Microsoft appears to have learned from its mistakes to offer customized solutions to agencies across the federal government. 

Recent announcements appear to be designed for the tech behemoth to pave the way for future bids of US government contracts and spend less time in legal disputes. Microsoft has been accused of losing ground over the last few years and allowing Amazon to dominate the market. But in repositioning their offerings to meet the security directives of the intelligence community, it's hoping to give governments more options and retire the perception that it's a one-horse race.

As big tech fights it out for a slice of the intelligence market, Microsoft's top-secret cloud capabilities will continue to go head to head with Amazon and the usual suspects.

With the stage set for the next round, analysts will be watching closely to see the outcome of Microsoft's protest against the NSA handing the WildandStormy contract to Amazon, which is due by October 29th.

A lucrative contract to help the NSA move from its on-premises cloud solution to a more hybrid approach is the prize this time. But we can expect the likes of Amazon and Microsoft to continue to go toe to toe in the years ahead. So, the only question that remains is which big tech company will become the partner of choice to help Governments and agencies around the world through the many stages of digital maturity advancement?

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