Microsoft Goes Live with 'Top Secret' Azure Cloud for Feds

Azure Government Top Secret, Microsoft's cloud offering for U.S. government agencies and their solution providers, is now generally available.

Microsoft designed Azure Government to be a physically isolated instance of its Azure cloud platform that's available only to U.S. federal, state, local and tribal governments. Under the Azure Government umbrella is Azure Government Secret, designed for U.S. agencies and partners working with data classified as "secret."

Azure Government Top Secret, released this week, is the latest version of this isolated government cloud. It's meant for U.S. agencies dealing with data classified as "top secret."

Developed in collaboration with the U.S. government, these Azure clouds have their own datacenters organized into regions, its own personnel (U.S. citizens) and its own network fiber that is separate from the Azure commercial offering.

Microsoft defines an Azure "region" as a set of datacenters deployed within a latency-defined perimeter and connected through a dedicated regional low-latency network. These air-gapped regions accelerate the delivery of national security workloads, explained Tom Keane, corporate vice president in Microsoft's Azure Global group.

"We've worked in close collaboration with the U.S. Government," Keane said in a blog post, "to build a cloud portfolio that serves the national security mission and empowers leaders across the Intelligence Community, Department of Defense, and Federal Civilian agencies to innovate securely wherever the mission requires and at all data classifications, with a continuum of technology from on-premises to cloud to the tactical edge."

To provide a cloud platform for government data defined as top secret, Microsoft's offering had to earn an Authorization to Operate (ATO) designation in accordance with Intelligence Community Directive (ICD) 503, which is a set of policies for IT systems used by intelligence agencies, Keane said. The platform has also earned ATO for facilities accredited to meet the ICD 705 standards for physical and technical security.

The Azure Government product portfolio was developed, according to Keane, to further Microsoft's "relentless commitment to the mission of national security."

Microsoft also announced that it has added new services to Azure Government Secret, including  Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS), Azure Functions and Azure App Service. There are now 73 services available on the Government Secret cloud. 

Microsoft's well-established relationship with the U.S. government took a hit last month, when the Department of Defense (DoD) canceled the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract at the center of a fight with Amazon Web Services (AWS). Microsoft was awarded that contract in 2019, but AWS contested that decision in court, which led, at least in part, to the cancelation.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].


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