Microsoft pushes Azure Government Cloud as homefront defender

All your national security are belong to us!

Microsoft is pushing the AUKUS trio – Australia, the UK, and the US – to update cross-border info collaboration, and - of course - it has just the thing: the classified Azure Government Cloud.

The call was made by Scott Gills, program manager in defense and intelligence for Microsoft, and noted the need for the three English-speaking nations to collaborate securely in light of the specter of Software Defined Warfare. And pay Redmond of course.

Gills rattled off a list of capabilities needed by AUKUS partners, from collaborating through familiar tools, analytics, and decision-making to research and innovation. And where could one find those capabilities? Why, the Azure Government Cloud, of course.

There are a couple of problems that leap out here. First, as Gills himself noted, the classified Azure Government Cloud was "built exclusively in support of US agencies." Yes, partners working with classified data can use it, but one must not lose track of its primary reason for existing. Secondly, AGC provides the same principles and architecture as Microsoft’s commercial cloud solutions.

As a reminder: a large chunk of Microsoft's cloud in Australia fell over in August, an incident attributed - in part - to a lack of staff on site.

Gills said: "To help accelerate progress, AUKUS needs access to classified Azure Government Cloud."

In some ways, he is correct. AUKUS members will need to up their collaboration game as time goes by, and something like the Azure Government Cloud is a possibility. However, considering Azure Government Cloud datacenters are located exclusively in the US, the partners might also prefer something that is a little more sovereign for themselves.

AUKUS is all about defense capability and cooperation between the three countries and the most notable result so far has been around nuclear submarines with contracts recently signed off for the design and purchase of long-lead items for a new generation of underwater predators. The first UK examples are expected to enter service during the late 2030s, with Australian submarines following in the early 2040s.

While lead times measured in years - or decades - might be all well and good for something like a nuclear submarine, it's less than ideal in the fast-moving cybersecurity landscape. Microsoft gives the example of its work with Ukraine in identifying and remediating various cyber threats since February 2022.

Indeed, those submarines are only one - admittedly large - part of the AUKUS plans. As a first stage it's about the provision of a conventionally armed nuclear submarine capability. Second is "Advanced Capabilities" - think electronic warfare, information sharing, cyber security, and, of course, quantum and AI. ®

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