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Microsoft says hello again to China, goodbye to Russia

Middle Kingdom gets another Azure region, Putin gets the middle finger

Microsoft has opened a fifth Azure region in China with one hand while putting a stop to new sales in Russia with the other.

The Redmond software giant declared today that its new Azure region in North China went live with unrestricted access for customers on 1 March, with capabilities including hybrid and multi-cloud deployment, IoT, edge computing, and data intelligence.

As well as the Azure region, Microsoft said it is adding a set of services that are new to the China market. Among these are support for Azure availability zones to ensure resilience of applications, with Microsoft offering a 99.99 per cent SLA for virtual machines across two or more availability zones in this case. Also new is Azure Arc, which extends Microsoft's Azure Resource Manager to other platforms such as Windows and Linux servers and virtual machines hosted outside of Azure.

Additionally, Microsoft is adding a Flexible server deployment option for Azure Database on MySQL, and Azure Purview, a data governance tool for on-premises, multi-cloud, and software-as-a-service data.

The expansion of Azure in China stands in stark contrast to the hostility that Chinese technology companies face from the US: late last year, American President Joe Biden signed a law that forbids buying kit from companies deemed security threats, while the US also revoked China Telecom's operating licence.

But Microsoft no doubt has its eyes on China's huge market – the country had over 900 million internet users as of 2020, and has apparently become the world's fastest-growing cloud market, with IDC claiming it has a year-on-year growth rate of near 50 per cent.

This being China, Azure services are operated not by Microsoft itself, but by a Chinese partner, 21Vianet. In accordance with Chinese regulatory requirements, Azure regions operated by 21Vianet in China are physically separate instances from Microsoft's global cloud, but are built using the same technology. So protectionism isn't exclusive to the US.

AWS has also expanding in the Middle Kingdom, adding its third Availability Zone to the China (Beijing) Region in June 2021. In line with Chinese regulatory requirements, this is operated by the Beijing Sinnet Technology Company. AWS has two other regions in China, in Ningxia and Hong Kong.

Google, however, cancelled its plans to offer cloud services in China in 2020. As reported by The Register, the project, called "Isolated Region", was initiated in 2018 and set out to address Chinese regulations, but Google was apparently not happy with the requirement to deliver services through a Chinese partner company.

Meanwhile, in Russia...

Microsoft said just hours ago that due to the crisis in Ukraine, it would stop sales of new gear into Russia. "We are announcing today that we will suspend all new sales of Microsoft products and services in Russia," wrote president Brad Smith in a blog post.

"In addition, we are coordinating closely and working in lockstep with the governments of the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom, and we are stopping many aspects of our business in Russia in compliance with governmental sanctions decisions."

Smith also spoke about how Microsoft is actively working to protect Ukrainian government, IT, financial, and civilian infrastructure from Russian cyberattacks.

He added: "As a company, we are committed to the safety of our employees in Ukraine and we are in constant contact with them to offer support in many forms, including those who have needed to flee for their lives or safety.

"Like so many others, we stand with Ukraine in calling for the restoration of peace, respect for Ukraine's sovereignty and the protection of its people."

The list of tech giants cutting Russia loose continues to grow – AMD, Intel, TSMC, Apple, Google, Amazon, Cisco, Dell, HP, IBM, SAP, Oracle, and Lenovo, for instance – plus corporations in automotive, financial services, entertainment, oil, and more, amid sanctions against the Putin regime by the West. ®

PS: Facebook and Instagram have blocked Russian outlets RT and Sputnik in the UK following a request by the British government.

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