By Michael Brick

In last week's Herald Juha Saarinen asked if it was acceptable for government data to be stored overseas.

To be blunt: it does not matter where data is stored, so long as those responsible for the data can adequately demonstrate that any risks associated with the locale are understood and mitigated. The New Zealand government has put in place robust frameworks to assist public sector agencies in assessing public cloud.

As part of a diligent process of consultation and considering, the government has answered these questions and adopted a Cloud First policy whether data is hosted onshore or offshore. In fact, the NZ government permits in-principle use of offshore cloud services for data classified up to and including restricted, which amounts to approximately 99 per cent of all NZ government data. The Government Chief Information Officer has recently developed a framework to help agencies assess jurisdictional risks on ict.govt.nz

Advertisement

A more fundamental question to location is: Why is there value in the government putting data in the cloud? Simply put, the cloud enables incredible innovation and transformation. Once an organisation has data in the cloud, it is better able to leverage specific services like machine learning.

For example, the combination of extremely large datasets, massive scale in computing resources and modern algorithms has enabled dramatic progress in artificial intelligence. When these three elements are brought together, we see breakthroughs in computer vision, language translation and cognitive systems - automated systems that can sense, reason and act. Systems that improve services to citizens, that can support better decision making and that make government operations more efficient.

While the government has implemented its cloud first policy and made decisions around the classification of data and selection of jurisdiction, Microsoft's focus has been on providing the infrastructure, choice, and opportunity to take advantage of hyperscale cloud in the ANZ region. In other words, as a cloud business we react to, reflect, and develop the security and technological requirements defined by the government.

With the addition of two new Microsoft Azure data centres early next year in Canberra joining existing data centres in Sydney and Melbourne, the New Zealand government has greater choice and can confidently innovate on a hyperscale cloud platform close to home. Important to note is that the CDC is 48 per cent NZ-owned by Infratil (a NZ long-term infrastructure investor), 48 per cent owned by the Australian Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation ownership, along with 4 per cent Australian management.

And it is not simply a situation in which all data resides in one place. A hybrid approach is also available, which could, as an example, combine public cloud (holding data offshore) with an on-premise deployment (running servers within government) providing additional choice and flexibility. In a hybrid scenario, customers may choose to deploy Microsoft Azure Stack in a private cloud on premises locally in New Zealand for certain protected data and use the hyperscale cloud in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne for a consistent hybrid cloud. Microsoft has enabled Azure hyperscale cloud in Australia and globally, with the option to utilize Azure Stack locally.

If the location is secure and meets the government's policy requirement, what truly matters is that government has the infrastructure, opportunity and choice to take advantage of technologies that ultimately benefit and serve New Zealand citizens.

- Michael Brick is the director of corporate affairs at Microsoft New Zealand Limited