Solving Data Residency Issues with the Office 365 Multi-Geo Tenant

Companies operate increasingly on the global stage and are therefore required to obey the data protection and compliance regulations in the individual regions and countries. Cue the data residency requirements. But how is this possible in the age of the cloud? The multi-geo tenant in Office 365 offers the perfect answer.

An article by Thino Ullmann , Senior Technical Presales Executive at COMPAREX

Thino Ullmann, Sales Executive at COMPAREX

Thino Ullmann

The various requirements in the field of data protection and compliance management that companies have to consider depend on their legal form, type, size and above all internationality. Given the inexorable advance of globalization, this presents new challenges for the IT departments and, by extension, the solutions that are placed at their disposal.

Multi-Geo features for Office 365 

Microsoft announced the multi-geo capabilities for Office 365 (status: private preview) during the MS Ignite 2017. They allow Office 365 users to configure their environment in such a way that it can extend across several datacenter regions. This enables the individual selection of specific datacenter regions in which the data for each user or user group will be stored, leading to easier adherence to the compliance or data residency requirements (data storage location) and other benefits.

Office 365 Multi-Geo Capabilities
Source: Microsoft

In a nutshell, a company with branches in North America, Australia and the European Union (for instance) can save its data in the respectively applicable regions (data-at-rest) and then manage them from a central location, instead of using the individual dedicated tenant for the particular area as before.

Office 365 OneDrive Multi-Geo
Source: Microsoft

Office 365: Managing OndeDrive for Business
Source: Microsoft – Managing OneDrive for Business with a central tenant for various regions.

Users will doubtless be rubbing their hands at the thought of the added speed they will acquire by storing their data “closer” to the individual users. But Microsoft is keen to emphasize that this was not the principal motivation. Indeed, the benefit is likely to be somewhat insignificant, as any performance problems – in the majority of cases at least – are due to external network issues that are therefore unrelated to the storage location and the provider.

Office 365 Multi-Tenant vs. Multi-Geo

Looking back, the only solution for multinational companies so far has been to operate a dedicated Office 365 environment (multi-tenants) in the respective country or region. But this elevated the complexity of the overall solution, required additional infrastructure and upped the administrative workload as well. The extra costs were actually quite substantial from a TCO perspective. For instance, it was not possible to use the same SMTP namespace for the individual Office 365 tenants. What’s more, displaying the free and booked times in calendar entries of the individual tenants, i.e. users (for instance to synch calendars), took some fiddling around, also.

Microsoft is offering an alternative to this procedure with its new Office 365 multi-geo capabilities. The needs of multinational companies are addressed additionally using geo-satellite locations (geo-storage instances) based on a central location (tenant). The necessary information in this regard (locations, groups, users etc.) is managed in a central Azure Active Directory. The data (e.g. mailboxes) are kept at their assigned storage locations.

The following diagram illustrates this example very well, based on an Exchange multi-geo topology:

Office 365 Multi-Geo Topology
Source: Microsoft

The following multi-geo services are offered or are under development as part of the ongoing preview:

  • Exchange Online
  • OneDrive for Business
  • SharePoint Online

The roadmap for other Office 365 services – for instance Microsoft Teams – has not yet been announced.

Multi-Geo availability in individual regions/countries

The multi-geo features are currently in the private preview phase, which is running in the following countries/regions:

  • Asian-Pacific region
  • Australia
  • Canada
  • European Union (EMEA)
  • India
  • United Kingdom (UK)
  • United States (North America)
  • South Korea
  • France is currently in planning.

Summary

There is currently no precise date on which the Office 365 multi-geo capabilities will go on general release, thus bringing the preview phase to an end. Interested customers are invited to apply as participants in this private preview, as it is not a feature that can be enabled by mouse click. Equally, it is presently unknown how these capabilities will affect the licensing situation. So the best courses of action would be to watch and wait for new announcements or to apply as a company to participate in the preview.

Do you have questions regarding your Office 365 products?

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Leipzig, 08.02.2018

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