Azure China: the aspects to know for a successful choice

For European and US companies with part of their business in China, the adoption of cloud solutions is becoming increasingly attractive. Microsoft offers the possibility of adopting Azure solutions also in China and a large number of important companies of the caliber of Coca Cola, BMW and Heineken have already landed on the Azure platform in China. However, there are important aspects and some peculiarities, covered in this article, which is good to take into consideration to make an informed choice when you intend to proceed with the deployment of line of business applications in the areas from China to Azure.

What is Azure China?

To offer cloud services in China and ensure consistent quality of service globally, you have the option to adopt Azure China, which has the following characteristics:

  • It is independently managed and sold by 21Vianet in mainland China. Shanghai Blue Cloud Technology Co., Ltd. (“21Vianet”) is a wholly owned subsidiary of Beijing 21Vianet Broadband Data Center Co., Ltd.
  • This is a physically separate instance of cloud services located in China.
  • Compared to Microsoft-managed Azure Public Areas, Azure subscriptions from Chinese regions can only be created by a Chinese entity. This means that to activate Azure services in these geographic areas it is necessary to collaborate with a local organization in mainland China. In fact, during the registration process, you are asked to specify a telephone number and an address in China. After creating the account, subscription management is the same as for any other Azure region, using a dedicated Azure portal.

To allow customers and partners to examine all important aspects, before activating workloads in Azure China, Microsoft has published this list of activities.

Datacenter

Azure China datacenters are located in eastern and northern China and are geographically separated by more 1.000 kilometres. Also for these datacenters there is support for geographic replication and business continuity, allowing to obtain high data reliability for Azure services. The following regions are currently available on the Chinese territory: China North, China North 2, China East e China East 2.

New Azure region coming to China in 2022

To meet the growing public cloud service needs of the Chinese market, Microsoft announced that in the 2022 a new Azure region will be available in North China, always managed by its local operating partner 21Vianet. This expansion is expected to double the capacity of Microsoft's cloud portfolio in China in the coming years, which in addition to Azure includes Microsoft Office 365, Dynamics 365 e Power Platform. All of this will help fuel further innovation and digital transformation for developers, partner, and customers in China and around the world.

Availability of services

There is a gap between the services that can be activated in Azure China and the global services of Azure. Taking this into account, you can check the services available in the regions of China in this page. Furthermore, releases of new services, Azure versions and new features have their own history in China.

Connectivity and access to resources

First of all, It is good to specify that the workloads distributed in Azure China are potentially accessible anywhere globally.

However, please note that Azure Global Regions and Azure Chinese Regions are physically disconnected. Therefore, to privately connect the resources located in the subscriptions in Azure China with those in the global areas of Azure, it is necessary to provide the activation of VPN site-to- site or ExpressRoute.

The adoption of a hybrid architecture allows you to extend applications and workloads located in Azure China and provide connectivity and interoperability globally.

The following connections are supported:

  • VPN or Azure ExpressRoute to create a direct network connection between Azure China and the on-premises environment located in China.
  • Site-to-site VPN to connect an Azure site in China to the on-premises environment outside China. ExpressRoute is not supported for direct network connectivity to an external site outside of China (Azure global is also considered external).

Figure 1 – Cross-border connectivity

In this regard, it is necessary to consider that the purchase of the connectivity service must be done by contacting qualified telecommunications operators who have a license issued by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).

Free ExpressRoute circuit for China

Azure China ExpressRoute offers a free circuit among the following paired regions: China North (N1) – China North 2 (N2) e China East (E1) – China East 2 (E2). This allows for minimal network latency, similar to being within the same region. The ExpressRoute crossover N1-E2, E1-N2 requires ExpressRoute Premium and is subject to a cross-data transfer charge.

Network latency

Between China and the rest of the world, high network latencies, low bandwidth, unstable connections and high costs are situations that occur in most cases.

All of this happens because of the intermediary technologies that regulate internet traffic that crosses the border. Among these the “Great Firewall of China” which protects Chinese Internet access and filters traffic to China. In fact, almost all traffic going from the Republic of China outside of China, with the exception of special administration areas such as Hong Kong and Macao, go through the Great Firewall. Traffic passing through Hong Kong and Macao does not fully hit the Great Firewall, but it is managed by a subset of the Great Firewall.

Figure 2 - Interconnections with China

To improve interconnections with China, it is also possible to use the Azure Virtual WAN service, as detailed in this Microsoft documentation.

Figure 3 - Example of architecture with Azure Virtual WAN

Furthermore, to improve the performance and responsiveness of websites with streaming media and other rich media content, it is possible to evaluate the adoption of an Azure CDN (Azure Content Delivery Network). According to Chinese law, the use of the CDN service in China could also subject an offshore website to the ICP registration. It is not recommended to use a global CDN service that does not have a point of presence (PoP) within mainland China.

Purchase options, costs and support

For information regarding the purchasing process and end-to-end onboarding for both Chinese and foreign users who are considering the adoption of Microsoft Azure services managed by 21Vianet in China (“Azure Services in China”) you can consult this guide, made following the customer's perspective.

The details on the costs of the various Azure China services can be found in this dedicated portal.

To get a complete view of the support plans in Azure China you can consult this page.

Conclusions

To ensure an effective distribution of your workloads in Azure China there are several aspects to consider such as which legal entity will manage your Azure China account, the level of compatibility of your applications with Azure services running in China, the Great Firewall and the migration and replication strategy to use. However, there are several companies that have long relied on Azure China and it is possible to consult the many success stories in this page.

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