Helps multinational organizations meet local data residency and compliance rules
Launched for Exchange Online at the Ignite 2017 conference, Microsoft has steadily built-out its multi-geo capabilities to include more workloads. Now they’ve announced that Teams is joining the list of Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, OneDrive for Business, and Microsoft 365 Groups, with availability due “in the first half of the calendar year.” Given that Teams consumes services from all the other applications, the announcement is unsurprising.
Any organization with more than 250 Microsoft 365 or Office 365 subscriptions (F1, F3, E3, and E5) can sign up for multi-geo if a minimum of 5% of the seats (13) will use the multi-geo capability. Licenses must be part of an enterprise agreement and Microsoft charges an extra $2/user/month for the multi-geo seats. The same fee covers all workloads. In other words, if you use multi-geo today, you don’t have to pay extra to use Teams.
Multi-geo works based on a central location and satellite locations. The central location is the original datacenter region for a tenant (for instance, North America or EMEA) while the satellite locations are other datacenter regions. Users have a preferred data location (PDL) in their Azure AD accounts to note where their data resides. Microsoft moves data within its datacenter network to provision accounts when a user’s PDL changes to a satellite location. Apart from OneDrive for Business, where administrators must transfer data by running the Start-SPOUserAndContentMove cmdlet, the data transfer is invisible to the user. Once a tenant starts using multi-geo, they can create new accounts in any location.
Typically, the satellite locations serve populations of users where data residency is a concern. For instance, if the organization has an office in Paris, the French datacenter region could be a satellite. The same goes for regions such as Norway, Switzerland, Germany, India, Japan, Korea, and so on. Conceivably, a large multinational organization could configure multi-geo in every region where Microsoft delivers Office 365 services.
All About Teams Messages
In the case of Teams, the files, calendar, and compliance records generated by users are already taken care of by SharePoint Online and Exchange Online, together with the Microsoft 365 Groups used by Teams to manage team membership. What is new is that Teams messaging is going multi-geo.
Teams stores chats and channel conversations in Azure Cosmos DB. Clients use a mixture of local cache (recently improved to allow offline message sending) and access to the data store to retrieve messages and images. When a user changes their PDL, the point of reference for Teams messaging switches to an instance of Azure Cosmos DB running in the satellite region. New messages are created in that instance, and background processes transfer older messages from the previous region to the PDL. Like Exchange Online and SharePoint Online, the data transfer should be invisible to users. At least, that’s the theory. We shall see when Microsoft switches on multi-geo for Teams.
Microsoft can control Teams messaging and the other first-party services enabled for multi-geo. It can’t control third-party apps or some of its own workloads (see below). Once you go down the path of multi-geo operations, administrative life becomes more complicated in areas like user account provisioning, eDiscovery, and backup. Microsoft doesn’t have a backup API for Teams, perhaps because they’ve been considering how best to handle scenarios like restores when a user’s account switches PDL, and ISVs active in this space who use compliance records stored in Exchange Online as a backup source now have another challenge to deal with.
Teams Now Core
The announcement of Teams as multi-geo capable means that Microsoft now regards Teams as a core workload. Given the success of Teams over the last year to 115 million daily active users, this isn’t an unexpected development. It also reflects a real need to serve customers whose internal communications have transitioned from email to Teams meet “specific data compliance and regulatory standards in certain countries and in highly regulated industries.”
Not All Workloads Support Multi-Geo
Although Teams is an important step forward, Microsoft still has work to do to make all workloads support multi-geo. Planner, Yammer, Stream, and Power Automate are examples of workloads which are not multi-geo capable. However, the transition of storage for Teams meeting recordings to OneDrive and SharePoint will help as recordings for personal meetings will be stored in the OneDrive account of the person who records the meeting while recordings for channel meetings will go into the SharePoint site for the team hosting the call.