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China somehow got through COVID without MS Teams but – phew! – it's arrived

Microsoft's cloudy pal 21Vianet upgrades to M365

China somehow, unbelievably, made it through the COVID-19 pandemic without a local version of Microsoft's Teams collaborationware app, but thankfully it won't have to face the next crisis similarly unarmed. On Saturday Microsoft 365 made its debut behind the Great Firewall.

Teams has long been available in China, but Microsoft has advised organizations with global Microsoft 365 tenants and a presence in China that "Microsoft 365 client performance for China-based users can be complicated by factors unique to the China internet architecture."

Microsoft has offered complex workarounds that require the use of VPNs. But China does not like VPNs – other than government-approved VPNs. Businesses that need VPNs need approval to use them.

Microsoft teased a local version of Teams in October 2022, and on April 1 it delivered. No, really, it did.

As is the case with Azure in China, Microsoft does not run this service: that job goes to its local partner, 21Vianet.

The debut of Teams in China means 21Vianet has also changed from offering Office 365 to the full Microsoft 365 service.

Microsoft's announcement of Teams' debut in China offers the usual rah-rah about the product's powers.

Many Chinese organizations probably have an inkling of how Teams works. Local web giant Tencent has over 200 million users for its VooV collaboration service and Alibaba has at least 15 million paid users on its DingTalk platform.

Teams handily tops those numbers with 280 million monthly users worldwide.

But it's starting a long way behind its local rivals in China. And doing so at a time when US/China relations are at a low ebb means local sentiment does not make shopping from overseas suppliers a popular option.

The timing of Teams' arrival in China is also poor, given that Microsoft last week admitted its current desktop clients are resource-hungry and slow, and will therefore be replaced later in 2023.

The software behemoth's announcement of its Chinese expansion points out that the service complies with all local security and personal information privacy laws. Tweaks to those laws introduced in February 2023 further complicated the process of securing approval before data is allowed offshore.

Teams for China may therefore make it easier to use Microsoft's flagship collaboration service within the Middle Kingdom's borders, but offer little relief to multinational organizations. ®

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