Microsoft has announced that its Office 365 cloud-based service now includes support for the European Commission's "Model Clauses", which safeguard personal data even if it is stored in a data centre located outside the European Economic Area (EEA). Concerns about data protection may have slowed the adoption of cloud services, particularly by large companies, and have recently become a competitive weapon in the battle between local and global cloud suppliers.
Microsoft says: "As part of its contractual commitment to customers, Microsoft will now sign the EU's Model Clauses, which will help customers certify compliance with the European Commission’s stringent Data Protection Directive, and the US-mandated Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)."
In an exclusive interview, Stephen McGibbon, chief technology officer for Microsoft EMEA, said Microsoft has supported Model Clauses before for some large enterprises. Now, however, "Microsoft will begin to include Model Clauses by default to all customers all over the world. I think we are the only cloud provider of any scale that's offering this service, and it differentiates Office 365."
McGibbon says that the EC "produced the language of Model Clauses" and that Microsoft goes beyond that in countries that have further data protection requirements, such as Germany.
A new dashboard at trust.office365.com, the Office 365 Trust Center, is intended to help users understand the "privacy and security practices" for Office 365. It lets users specify where their data is held, so "European customers can choose to have their data located in Europe," McGibbon adds.
McGibbon says the new trust services are "orthogonal" to the Patriot Act that enables US government services to access data. The Patriot Act applies to all American companies, including Google and Amazon, and all non-US companies that operate in America.
Office 365 offers hosted versions of Microsoft Office, Lync, SharePoint and Exchange, depending on price. The system is designed to work with and extend existing on-premise versions of Microsoft software, though it can also work as a full cloud-based system. It has replaced the less popular BPOS (Business Productivity Online Standard Suite).
Microsoft has announced a number of deals with partners such as Fujitsu to deliver a wide range of public and private cloud options with its Office 365 service, which is now available in 41 markets. This week's announcements include a four-year deal with Hewlett-Packard's HP Enterprise Services, and with Telekom Malaysia, which will offer Office 365 to local businesses.