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Update #3 on our commitment to customers and Microsoft cloud services continuity

The COVID-19 crisis has compelled organizations around the world to move quickly to remote work and remote learning. And with so much at stake, our customers want details on what we’re doing to address their top needs and to help ensure cloud service continuity. The post I’m sharing below does just that.

Update #3: Business continuity with Azure

Posted on April 23, 2020

Microsoft Azure

Thank you for your response to our cloud continuity blogs; many of you have told us that this information is helpful. We’re committed to providing further posts when we have additional information.

Here at Microsoft, as most of our company starts the seventh week in changed professional and personal arrangements, we are learning new ways to live, work, learn and communicate. We are also learning from you—our customers and partners. We are all adjusting in this moment together and are appreciative of the feedback we receive and the confidence our customers have in our wide range of cloud services.

As a technology first responder serving first responders battling the global health crisis, as a trusted cloud provider to ensure your technology investment continues to deliver the value you expect, and as a company committed to assisting as organizations adapt to changing needs—we are relentlessly focused on providing the support needed to help the workforce operate as smoothly as possible during these changing times.

To ensure optimum focus, our efforts continue to be anchored in two key areas of action:

  1. Help our customers address their most urgent needs.
  2. Ensure Microsoft Azure continues to scale to meet new demand.

The rest of this post shares insights into the work we have done to support those two areas of continuity for organizations, businesses, and the people within them, around the world.

Helping our customers address their most urgent needs

Across our portfolio of cloud services, we work with a diverse group of global customers and organizations. Although their fields of work and customer needs are unique, there is consistency in what they’re looking for from cloud providers. Remote work, distance learning, real-time insights, and analytics have all been common themes of when it comes to the most pressing needs during this time.

Some examples of this work in action:

As businesses and schools around the world prioritize the safety and well-being of their employees and students, Microsoft Teams, which runs on Azure, is playing a critical role in helping them stay connected through video meetings, calls, and chats. We’ve seen a new daily record of 2.7 billion meeting minutes in one day. One of the organizations using Teams is St. Luke’s University Health Network. St. Luke’s University Health network serves approximately 1 million people across 10 counties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. In a matter of weeks, they transformed the way they work and deliver patient care through Teams, and since mid-March have completed over 75,000 virtual patient visits. This allowed them to continue critical outpatient visits while protecting both patients and physicians from COVID-19 exposure and preserving valuable resources like masks and gloves. Tablets have also been installed in patient rooms so providers can engage with infected patients via Teams, minimizing exposure while still allowing for face-to-face connections between patients and caregivers.

HoloLens 2 and Dynamics 365 Remote Assist are being used on the front lines by nurses and doctors (like Dr. Thomas Gregory) to maintain social distancing and minimize interactions all while ensuring expert support of patients via remote participation of support staff and access to valuable patient data and health records. And for the first time ever, instead of working together on campus, all 185 first-year students from Case Western Reserve University’s School of Medicine are using HoloLens and the university’s signature HoloAnatomy mixed-reality software, in light of the need for physical separation during the pandemic.

Hundreds of healthcare providers have installed the Power Platform Emergency Response Solution for hospitals, which was developed with Swedish Health Services in the Seattle area to analyze and improve resource tracking and decision support tools for hospital administrators.

Our Nonprofit Data Warehouse Quickstart efforts are helping nonprofits easily deploy Azure analytics services such as Azure Synapse Analytics and with prebuilt Power BI templates by integrating sample datasets such as the World Health Organization Water and Sanitation data repository, data that is aligned to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) data standard, and the Common Data Model for Nonprofits.

We recently announced the Dynamics 365 Healthcare Accelerator Patient Scheduling and Screening Template—a tool designed to help healthcare organizations address large volumes of patient requests with higher efficiency. The template provides access to a portal with information about COVID-19, an easy-to-use self-assessment tool for patients to determine risk, and an automated process for booking and performing COVID-19 screening.

Emergency Medical Services Copenhagen provides emergency care for about one-third of Denmark’s population. Shortly after the COVID-19 outbreak calls to its emergency lines almost doubled, with around 2,000 calls daily by early March from worried people showing symptoms of COVID-19 or having questions about the disease. Emergency Medical Services Copenhagen is now one of many healthcare organizations in Europe and beyond using Microsoft’s Healthcare Bot service to help screen people for potential coronavirus infection and treatment.

Ensuring Azure continues to scale to meet new demand

The impact of the current pandemic is a great example of how cloud computing can rapidly meet new challenges. All of Microsoft’s cloud services including Teams and other Microsoft 365 products, Dynamics 365 and Azure were put to the test during these unprecedented and uncertain times. We are incredibly proud to be serving our customers, like those mentioned above, through this time and we also acknowledge that it hasn’t all been without issue. We look to continuously improve our design and operations to account for all circumstances. Before we share the improvements we’re making, here’s some background on how we build and operate Azure.

Azure has been designed to quickly scale to meet surges in demand when they occur. Over the past few years, we have seen phenomenal demand for Azure services. To keep up with this demand, we have continued to expand our datacenter footprint—with 58 datacenter regions around the world. To manage the normal high growth we have come to expect, we design and source our own infrastructure components, (and share our designs back to the community through the Open Compute Project), and closely manage our strategic demand and supply chain forecasting models. In general, in any particular Azure region we ensure a near-instant capacity buffer within the datacenters, and hold additional infrastructure buffer warehoused, ready to ship to regions with high demand.

Last month, the surging use of Teams for remote work and education due to the pandemic crossed into unprecedented territory. Although we had seen surges in specific datacenter regions or wider geographies before, such as in response to natural disasters, the substantial Teams demand increase from Asia and then quickly followed in Europe indicated that we were seeing something very different, and increasingly global. Without knowing the true scale of the new demand, we took a cautious approach and put in place temporary resource limits on new Azure subscriptions. (Existing customer subscriptions did not experience these restrictions as each Azure customer account has a defined quota of services they can access.) This allowed us to continue to meet the promised quota for all existing Azure customers, prioritize new needs for life and safety organizations on the front lines of the pandemic response and support the dramatic shift to remote work and education on Teams.

As this surge in Teams demand occurred, we quickly took steps towards managing increased cloud infrastructure and network demand including:

  • Optimized and load-balanced the Teams architecture and quickly rolled out these improvements worldwide (using Azure DevOps), without interrupting the customer experience. This work is durable such that we can manage Teams rapid growth moving forward without creating pressure on Azure customers’ capacity needs.
  • Expediting additional server capacity to the specific regions that faced constraints, while ensuring the safety and health of our datacenter staff and supply chain partners.
  • Approving the backlog of customer quota requests, which we are rapidly doing every day and are on track to complete over the next few weeks in almost all regions.
  • Removing restrictions for new free and benefit subscriptions in several regions, so that anyone can learn more about Azure’s capabilities and develop new skills.
  • Refining our Azure demand models. Our data science models are using what we’ve learned from this pandemic to better forecast future demands, including adding more support to handle future global events like a pandemic that drives simultaneous demand usage everywhere in the world.

We remain committed to operational excellence and we will continue to share what we are learning and doing to support everyone during this time.