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The new Azure regions in Korea expand Microsoft’s footprint in Asia. (Microsoft graphic, click for full map)

Microsoft is making the next move in the cloud industry’s rapid global expansion with the news today that its Azure cloud platform is now generally available from two new regions in South Korea, from data centers in Seoul and the port city of Busan.

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The Korean expansion, plans for which were originally announced last year, brings Azure to a total of 34 regions around the world, including 13 in Asia, as Microsoft spends heavily to expand the worldwide footprint of its data centers in competition with Amazon, Google and others.

Part of what’s driving the trend is the technical benefit of putting storage and computing closer to developers and businesses around the world, to improve reliability and performance. In addition, the rollout in new countries makes it easier for Microsoft and its customers to comply with local laws requiring some data to be stored domestically.

“The geographic expansion of Azure enables our customers to achieve higher performance and supports their requirements and preferences regarding data location to meet the growing demand for an intelligent, global, enterprise-ready cloud,” said Yousef Khalidi, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for Azure Networking, in a statement this morning.

Microsoft says the same Korean data centers will begin offering its Office 365 cloud-based productivity software sometime in the second quarter of the year.

Research firm Canalys said this month that the global data center race is “intensifying” as cloud providers including Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Oracle and Alibaba build out their infrastructure, creating significant capital expenses at each company.

“Strict data sovereignty laws and customer demand are pushing cloud service providers to build data centers in key markets, such as Germany, Canada, Japan, the UK, China and the Middle East; where personal data is increasingly required to be stored in facilities that are physically located within the country” said Daniel Liu, Canalys research analyst, in the report. “Expanding data center locations across the world and into key economies has been critical in supporting multi-national customers in their digital transformation initiatives.”

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