The usual reasons for wanting cloud services such as Microsoft Azure to operate Australian data centres are improved latency and the need for data to be on-shore for legal purposes. But if you ask current customers what the best aspect of those plans are, the answer often turns out to be a different issue: geo-redundancy.
Microsoft announced its plans to open two Azure data centres in Australia earlier this year. Those centres in New South Wales and Victoria are expected to open in 2014, and that timing was reaffirmed at Microsoft TechEd 2013 on the Gold Coast this week.
A customer panel for three local customers already using Azure raises an obvious question: will those businesses race to use the Australian data centre when it opens? The answers varied, but hardly anyone appeared worried about latency or sovereignty issues.
Cash Converters, which is using Azure as the back-end of a point-of-sales (POS) system update that will eventually roll out across all 700 of its stores, can see definite potential in having Australian hosting, but says that latency resulting from hosting in Singapore hasn't been an issue so far.
"Our primary for Australian sites is Singapore," said Cash Converters software development manager James Miles. "The latency is 180-200ms, so that's not really noticed by the user. But Hong Kong and Singapore geographically are in a related part of the world, so I think when the Australian data centres come online we'll make an Australian data centre the primary. The bigger benefit is we can better manage our geo-redundancy, because if all of the lines out of Australia were cut, we'd theoretically be offline. That's a pretty unlikely scenario but it could happen."
Finance software firm MYOB also uses Azure for its cloud-based packages, and CTO Simon Raik-Allen is keen to use the new centres. "I'm a big fan of geo-redundancy," he said. "We'll be all over it": Some MYOB customers are concerned about sovereignty issues, he said, but that's a small group (many of those customers would elect to use an on-premises solution anyway).
But Myles Lawlor, digital project manager at Canon Australia, which is developing an Azure-based digital image management service aimed at consumers, says that the location of the servers is irrelevant for that particular project.
"That wasn't really a concern for us," he said. "The concern was: does it meet the consumer's experience needs? I'm aware there's an Australian data centre being built, but it would have to meet an innate experiential need."
The enthusiasm for geo-redundancy also suggests that for established Australian business customers, Microsoft may make some extra money. The typical approach to geo-redundancy in Azure is that you're automatically replicated within your region (so data from Singapore is available through Hong Kong), but you have to pay for additional regions. So companies that want (say) Melbourne and Singapore will still end up paying for two regions (SE Asia and Australia), even if they're not especially interested in Hong Kong or Sydney as sites.
Different rules again apply to start-ups, if only because most tech start-ups are aiming at global audiences. As such, hosting in North America remains a popular choice.
"We don't have any sovereignty issues on our data so we're happy to have it stored around the planet," said Jordan Knight from digital photography transformation startup Project Tripod. "We are launching globally so we're happy to have our data in the states for now."
"We're running of Seattle at the moment which does help if we start getting some international testing but we would certainly prefer less latency," said Marty Smee from collaboration statrtup Co-opRating.
Obviously, customers who have already signed up to Azure have deemed the latency and sovereignty issues to be a manageable concern. Nonetheless, it's an interesting reminder that there are few absolute rules in cloud computing, and assuming the same rules apply to everyone doesn't make sense.
Disclosure: Angus Kidman travelled to TechEd Australia as a guest of Microsoft.