Microsoft has launched a new kind of cloud service in Germany where user data is controlled by a "data trustee" operating under German law. Microsoft is unable to access user data without the permission of the data trustee or the customer, even if it is instructed to do so by the US government. If permission is granted by the data trustee, Microsoft will still only do so under its supervision. The idea behind the new data trustee-based cloud services is presumably to address European concerns that the NSA and other US agencies could demand access to any user data stored using Microsoft's current cloud services.
According to Microsoft's press release, the data trustee for the new German cloud offerings is T-Systems, a subsidiary of the giant telecom company Deutsche Telekom. Timotheus Höttges, Deutsche Telekom's CEO, is quoted as saying: "Microsoft is pioneering a new, unique, solution for customers in Germany and Europe. Now, customers who want local control of their data combined with Microsoft’s cloud services have a new option, and I anticipate it will be rapidly adopted."
Two new data centres are being built: one in Frankfurt am Main, the other in Magdeburg. Both will offer Azure, Office 365, and the Dynamics CRM Online cloud services from the second half of 2016. The two locations will be connected by a private network, separate from the Internet, in order to ensure that data never leaves Germany as it moves between them—for example, to provide automatic backups. Microsoft says the new offering is aimed particularly at European companies and organisations working with sensitive data, such as those in the finance and health sectors.
It isn't entirely clear how these new data centres will actually be operated. It sounds like Microsoft will build the data centre and set things up, and then hand the keys to the data trustee. Microsoft says that its staff will not have independent access to the data held there.
As Ars reported yesterday, Microsoft is spending £1.3 billion to expand its network of data centres in Europe, and has 24 cloud regions around the world. Today's announcement is significant, because it shows the company going beyond simply installing servers locally, to handing operational control to a local company subject to local laws.