Microsoft is looking to sure up its position in its battle against AWS, partnering with the Australian government to improve cybersecurity as part of $5 billion spend over the next two years on cloud computing and artificial intelligence infrastructure.
The capital expenditure was announced by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the Australian Embassy in Washington DC as part of his US trip to meet with President Joe Biden.
A new Microsoft Data Centre Academy will open next year in partnership with TAFE NSW, focusing on building applied data centre skills. Around 200 people will be trained in the next few years at the academy in Meadowbank.
The academy will focus on under-represented groups including women and Indigenous people to get jobs in tech. Microsoft has also committed to support programs training an additional 300,000 Australians through its global skills program.
The US software company will also collaborate with the government intelligence gathering body the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) on the Microsoft-ASD Cyber Shield to improve the nation’s cybersecurity response. The cyber shield will improve joint capability to identify, prevent and respond to cyber threats.
The tech giant also plans add another nine local data centres to the existing in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. Its digital infrastructure investment will increase its computing capacity by around 250% over the next two years, with demand for cloud computing services expected to almost double in value to A$22.4 billion by 2026.
But Microsoft is in a race with rival AWS for market share and in that context, the $5 billion bill appears modest after AWS announced in April this year that it will spend more than $13 billion in Australia over the next five years as it expands its cloud computing operations in Melbourne and Sydney.
Prime Minister Albanese welcomed Microsoft’s focus on skills.
“A priority for my Government is to ensure all Australians benefit from economic growth,” he said.
“This means that we need to provide the skills to enable Australians to succeed in the jobs of the future.”
Albanese said the partnership with ASD was the first step in the government’s plan to make Australia “the world’s most cyber-secure nation” by 2030.
“A strong economy requires protection from cyber threats. I welcome Microsoft’s collaboration with the Australian Signals Directorate to enhance cybersecurity for households and business,” he said.
“This will improve joint capability to identify, prevent and respond to cyber threats. We know that this is having an impact on all companies. We know as well, that this is about individuals and the protection of who they are.”
Monash University Professor Monica Whitty, the IT Faculty’s head of software systems and cybersecurity, said the announcement and the intention to invest in building a ‘cyber shield’ recognises the urgent need to increase lcoal cybersecurity capacity.
“While it is difficult to know exactly how this ‘cyber shield’ will be implemented, what is important for Australians to know is that we have a cybersecurity skills gap that urgently needs addressing,” she said.
“In Australia, we need to improve basic levels of digital literacy and training that organisations might provide, but even more importantly there is a need to increase the number of highly trained cyber security specialists in undergraduate and postgraduate degrees – given that currently the government and industry are struggling to recruit this much needed talent from within the country.”