Microsoft's new datacenters aim to put customer data beyond the reach of US snooping

New German datacenters aim to provide additional protections for customer data by giving control to an independent data trustee.

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Microsoft has started offering its Azure cloud services from two new German datacenters, which have been set up to make it much harder for US authorities -- and others -- to demand access to the customer data stored there.

Microsoft Cloud Germany is different to the company's existing European cloud services: the customer data in the datacenters is under the control of a "data trustee", T-Systems International, which is an independent German company and subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom.

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Microsoft's cloud and enterprise corporate vice president Takeshi Numoto described the new datacenters as a "first-of-its-kind model".

Microsoft cannot access data at the sites without the permission of customers or the data trustee -- and if permission is granted by the latter, the company can only do so under its supervision. As a US company, there have been concerns that US law enforcement can request access to Microsoft customer data even if it's stored outside the US.

Microsoft's new arrangement may go some way towards reducing those concerns: according to the company, the new datacenters will increase opportunities for innovation "for highly regulated partners and customers operating in Germany, the European Union and the European Free Trade Association".

Microsoft said the commercial cloud services in these datacenters adhere to German data-handling regulations and give customers additional choices over how and where data is processed. When the service was announced late last year, Microsoft said that two datacenter regions in Germany would ensure business continuity, with data exchange through a private network to ensure that data remained in Germany.

"With Microsoft Cloud Germany, we will be able to use a cloud solution that meets our compliance restrictions and allows us to use innovative applications to improve our processes," said Dr Sebastian Saxe, CIO at Hamburg Port Authority.

Microsoft said it now has 30 Azure regions around the world. The availability of Azure in Germany will be followed by previews of Office 365 and Dynamics 365 later this year, and the general availability of Office 365 in the first quarter and Dynamics 365 in the first half of 2017. Earlier this month Microsoft officially opened two new cloud regions in the UK, offering Azure and Office 365 from multiple datacenter locations in the UK for the first time.

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