Category Archives: cloud computing

Microsoft to host data in Germany, allegedly to hide it from US intelligence agencies

James Vincent at The Verge: Microsoft is opening new data centers in Germany to allow European customers to hide their digital information from US government surveillance. The new data centers will open in late 2016 and will be operated by a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom. However, The Financial Times notes that customers will have to pay extra to store their data in this way.

“These new data centre regions will enable customers to use the full power of Microsoft’s cloud in Germany […] and ensure that a German company retains control of the data,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at a press conference in Berlin this morning.

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The announcement is the latest move in an ongoing battle between US tech companies and the American government over access to foreign-held data. Companies like Microsoft and Google want to retain the trust of their users after the Snowden revelations, but have to contend with American police and spy agencies who want the same privileged access they’ve always enjoyed.

An ongoing legal battle between Microsoft and a New York court exemplifies the debate, with the US authorities demanding access to the emails of an American citizen stored in Ireland and Microsoft refusing to hand over the data.

Although Microsoft could still lose in this particular case, opening new data centers in Germany will provide a future safeguard against US demands for data.

The company has also announced plans for new data centers in the UK, but Germany’s data-protection laws are some of the most rigorous in Europe. By placing its data centers under the control of a Germany company as a “data trustee,” Microsoft is forcing any requests for information to be routed through Germany authorities.

It’s an approach that’s comparable to Apple’s use of encryption that even the iPhone-maker can’t break — theoretically taking away the option of government authorities forcing the company to give up users’ data.

However, none of these tactics are ever completely secure. For example, the Snowden revelations showed that despite Europe’s outward desire for data sovereignty, many local spy agencies still funneled European citizens’ data to the NSA. Paul Miller, an analyst for Forrester, notes that although Microsoft is confident in the security of German servers, this arrangement has yet to be tested in the courts. “To be sure, we must wait for the first legal challenge. And the appeal. And the counter-appeal,” said Miller.

More importantly, though, Microsoft’s decision could end up affecting more than just its own users. If the German trustee model becomes a recognized standard for data security, then customers of other cloud computing firms like Google and Amazon could demand similar arrangements. EU officials might also be emboldened by the move.

Last month, the EU Court of Justice invalidated the longstanding Safe Harbor treaty allowing US companies to send data on European citizens back to America. The treaty is currently being renegotiated, and Microsoft’s support for the data trustee model could feed into these debates.

Sources:

The Verge: Microsoft will host data in Germany to hide it from US spies

PR Newsire UK: Microsoft Announces Plans to Offer Cloud Services from German Datacenters

Microsoft Germany: Microsoft Cloud in Deutschland

CLOUD COMPUTING IN A NUTSHELL

Cloud Computing Tiers

Cloud Computing Tiers

Cloud computing is a portmanteau term encompassing everything from infrastructure as a service (essentially renting someone else’s server equipment) through to software as a service (typically websites that someone else runs for you). In the middle, there is a platform tier providing the microservices that power the likes of Android and iPhone apps, and also many web-delivered services.

Cloud computing powers the services of internet giants like Microsoft, Google and Amazon and that technology is now available to institutions, learners and researchers.

Cloud can also deliver significant operating efficiencies to institutions and help to make IT provision dramatically more flexible and agile

This has the potential to be hugely empowering, for example by extending the reach of an individual’s research far beyond what would historically have been possible.

Cloud can also deliver significant operating efficiencies to institutions and help to make IT provision dramatically more flexible and agile.

Three cases of cloud computing nowadays

Infrastructure as a service (IaaS)

Exemplified by the likes of Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Compute Engine andMicrosoft’s Azure Virtual Machines. Each of these services gives near instant access to a server hosted in one of the cloud providers’ data centres, pre-loaded with the operating system and often (sometimes for an additional cost) the application software you require.

Software as a service (SaaS)

Exemplified by the likes of the Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps for Educationcollaboration suites, and the Salesforce.com Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. Software vendors are increasingly delivering applications through cloud computing for reasons of convenience and customer retention.

Platform as a service (PaaS)

Essentially a kit of parts which can be used by developers to simplify the process of building and deploying applications. Examples include facilities for reliably hosting applications at scale that have been written in common programming languages such as Amazon’s Elastic Beanstalk.

Source: Report: The Future of Cloud Computing  https://www.jisc.ac.uk/reports/the-future-of-cloud-computing