FAQ: What Microsoft Azure and Microsoft Office 365 OFFICIAL accreditation means for your organisation

Microsoft Azure and Microsoft Office 365 now hold the UK Government’s recently launched “OFFICIAL” accreditation.

What does that mean?

It means that Microsoft Azure, an Infrastructure-as-a-Service and Platform-as-a-Service cloud computing platform, and Office 365, Microsoft’s public cloud productivity suite for e-mail, collaboration and unified communications, are now accredited to hold or transact public sector data for business conducted at the OFFICIAL level of Security Classification.

What data is considered “OFFICIAL”?

As defined by the documentation, ALL routine public sector business, operations and services and the data they involve should be treated as OFFICIAL - many departments and agencies will operate substantially or exclusively at this level.  

Examples of OFFICIAL business include:

  • The day-to-day business of government, service delivery and public finances.
  • Routine international relations and diplomatic activities.
  • Public safety, criminal justice and enforcement activities. 
  • Many aspects of defence, security and resilience.
  • Commercial interests, including information provided in confidence and intellectual property.
  • Personal information which falls under the protection of the Data Protection Act (1998) (which includes, for example, data such as health records).

Are these services available via G-Cloud?

Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft Azure are just part of our offerings on the G-Cloud Framework, available through the CloudStore, demonstrating Microsoft’s commitment to supporting the UK government’s Cloud First policy, helping to reduce the cost of ICT and to achieve the aim of moving 50% of new ICT services to the cloud by 2015.

What services does Microsoft Office 365 include?

Microsoft Office 365 includes cloud-based versions of all your favourite productivity tools, including Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint, and integrates them with Exchange Email, SharePoint collaboration (including content management and social networking), and Lync unified communications. SharePoint now includes OneDrive for Business, offering 1TB of storage per user and Lync includes instant messaging, presence and high-definition audio and video conferencing.  Learn more about what you can accomplish with Office 365.

Does it matter what device or platform I use to access those programs?

Microsoft Office 365 works happily in most common and modern browsers and is accredited to handle all OFFICIAL level work on a wide range of connected devices including laptops, tablets and smartphones when managed in line with the Government’sEnd User Device Guidance.

What does Microsoft Azure do?

Microsoft Azure supports the Government’s Digital-by-Default agenda and enables public sector organisations to develop and run applications for citizen-facing services, or departmental applications for internal users. It provides both Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) compute and storage capability on a pay-as-you-go basis, avoiding capital expenditure and the cost of running and maintaining expensive systems on-premise. It also offers a substantially more cost effective approach to data storage and backup, due to the massive economies of scale Microsoft can pass on to its customers.

What if my organisation prefers a private cloud solution?

Fortunately, Microsoft has also achieved Foundation Level Commercial Product Assurance for Windows Hyper-V, the first and, at the time of writing, only virtualisation product to do so.  This means that Windows Hyper-V is suitable to operate at multiple levels of threat and risk for OFFICIAL information inside UK government; facilitating its deployment for customers and partners delivering private cloud solutions inside government.

Where are Microsoft’s data centres?

Microsoft’s EU datacentres are based in Dublin and Amsterdam and Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft Azure services comply with ISO 27001 standards and provide comprehensive data processing provisions to UK customers, incorporating EU Model Clauses – Europe’s data protection regulations.  Microsoft is the first – and so far only – company to receive this approval, which followed an extensive review by the Article 29 Working Party.  You can read more in Microsoft’s Official Blog on this topic.

My organisation already uses Microsoft Azure and Microsoft Office 365. What does the accreditation mean for me?

Adding the “OFFICIAL” accreditation provides additional peace of mind for public sector organisations, and the citizens they serve.  It will deliver confidence that information will continue to stay within the parameters defined by CESG.

I want my organisation’s IT needs to be met by a small- or medium-sized enterprise. What does this accreditation mean for SMEs?

The Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft Azure platforms create a great opportunity for Microsoft’s SME Partner community, of which over 150 are already assured on the G-Cloud CloudStore marketplace.  These skilled and experienced partners can provide specialist cloud consultancy services or develop cost effective innovative apps for government users or citizen-facing services that exploit the scalability and reliability of a world-class cloud platform.  A great example is the Environment Agency’s FloodAlerts application,  hosted by Azure, and developed by UK SME Shoothill Ltd. This really put Azure to the test during the recent winter floods when millions of citizens were checking river levels. Learn more about the Environment Agency's story.

I’m interested in cloud tools, but I want to learn more before I make decisions.

This free ebook on getting started with cloud tools was written especially with the public sector in mind. It answers many common questions and provides concrete first steps to getting started with your journey to the cloud.