Microsoft’s announcement that they will open new datacenters in Germany to deliver Azure in late 2019 and Office 365 in 2020 marks the beginning of the end for the Black Forest datacenter region deployed in 2015 to satisfy the strict needs for data residency in the German market.
The new datacenters in Berlin and Frankfurt will be “consistent” with Microsoft’s other Office 365 operations. In other words, they will run like other country-level Office 365 datacenter regions like those in the U.K. and France.
The Need for Black Forest
Black Forest, aka Microsoft Cloud Germany, was deployed at a time when Office 365 was both simpler and less sophisticated. By handing over responsibility for operations to T Systems International as the data trustee, Microsoft avoided any problems associated with a U.S. company having oversight over German customer data.
The solution worked, but immediately ran into the conundrum that while Black Forest ran Office 365, it was a special version of Office 365 that offers different features to German tenants. One notable example is the lack of support for Azure Information Protection, meaning that German tenants can’t protect email and documents with rights management.
The Lack of Functionality for German Tenants
Black Forest can certainly deliver the basic Office 365 workloads of Exchange Online and SharePoint Online, but the new applications delivered since 2015 are notable for their absence in the feature menu. No Teams, no Planner, no Flow, no MyAnalytics, no Delve, no Sway, no StaffHub, no Video, and no PowerApps… It’s a pretty compelling list of functionality that’s unavailable to German tenants.
In most cases, the reason why Black Forest cannot offer new apps to German customers is that the necessary services are not deployed into the datacenter. It’s only relatively recently that Microsoft has begun to deploy more than base workloads into country-level datacenters, but the recent expansion of Teams into Australia and Japan is an example of how that kind of deployment is now commonplace.
The Difference from 2015
Adding features like multi-geo capabilities have made Office 365 operations more sophisticated now than when Black Forest started. In addition, Microsoft has poured enormous effort to make Office 365 a good platform for companies who need to comply with GDPR and other regulations. It seems reasonable to now draw a line under Black Forest and offer a more comprehensive service to German tenants.
Microsoft says that they are no longer accepting new customers for deployment within Black Forest. Instead, new customers can use one of the other European regions (EMEA, UK, or France) or the new German datacenter region when it begins operations. Existing Black Forest tenants will be offered migration options to move to another region. The migration is less complex than in other regions because Black Forest only supports a subset of Office 365 applications. We expect to hear more about these options in due course.
Learn more about Office 365 datacenter regions in Chapter 1 of Office 365 for IT Pros.