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Following Microsoft’s announcement in November 2012 that it was working with data centre company 21Vianet to bring the Azure platform to China, the Redmond-based software giant’s this week confirmed that the infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS) will go live on June 6.

Windows Azure launches in China June 6

Windows Azure launches in China June 6

Windows Azure will be made available through local partner 21Vianet, which will host and operate the platform on Microsoft’s behalf.

In addition to allowing apps to be locally developed and hosted, the service will also allow companies looking to use applications developed on Microsoft’s PaaS elsewhere in the world to be hosted locally without having to fine-tune anything, a model which will likely prove attractive to multinational companies operating in China – particularly those already adopting the Azure platform. The Shanghai Municipal Government will be the first in the region to use the Microsoft cloud services.

21Vianet, Microsoft’s key partner in this endeavour, claims to be China’s leading carrier-neutral data centre provider in China. Combined with the fact that it operates 81 data centres in 42 cities across China (particularly along major network access points like Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou), Microsoft should be able to maintain a high quality of service for enterprise IT consumers.

When Microsoft and 21Vianet first made the announcement in November 2012, the arrangement meant companies could either choose to store data locally through 21Vianet’s data centre as well as Microsoft data centres already up and running in Hong Kong and Singapore, but it is not yet clear whether this has changed, particularly given the stringent data management measures applied by the Chinese government.

Microsoft will have a good opportunity to grow Azure in a region already familiar with its legacy productivity suite and sell multi-tenant cloud services to millions of potential new customers. But while the Chinese economy offers potential in terms of volume, the cloud remains relatively underdeveloped in the region. Amazon Web Services (AWS), a key competitor to Microsoft in the IaaS space has a presence in Singapore, Japan and Hong Kong – without any significant presence on the mainland, while Google has had notorious difficulty entering the cloud services market in China for years.

Cloud services rollout in China may also be hindered by a lack of critical investment into the mobile, fixed networks and data centre infrastructure on the ground there, according to an Informa Telecoms and Media 2013 Industry Outlook report. This is not going unnoticed. While global communication service providers (CSPs) fight to control the physical assets necessary to sell digital goods, China’s leading operators – China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecoms – are investing an estimated $6bn US on data centre infrastructure in 2013 alone.

Potential barriers and issues abound – bandwidth limitations, data sovereignty and cyber security are a few notable hurdles – but what is clear is that Microsoft is trying to lead in a key growth region where cloud is in its early days.

@BizCloud
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