Microsoft today announced Azure is now generally available in China. The cloud computing platform is operated by data Internet services provider 21Vianet.

21Vianet, a Chinese company, last year claimed to be the “largest carrier-neutral Internet data center services provider” in the country. It has 81 data centers in 42 cities in China, although that number is likely growing.

The duo calls the news a “significant milestone” because it means Microsoft is the first global company to make onshore public cloud services available to customers in China. Here is what the company has to say about its partner:

To ensure a compliant, enterprise-grade public cloud experience, Microsoft has partnered with 21Vianet within China to deliver Microsoft Azure to our customers in the region. 21Vianet is a trusted and reliable partner who can deliver the quality and reliability that Microsoft Azure customers require, delivering Azure service from multiple locations in China to enable critical disaster recovery scenarios.

Microsoft and 21Vianet first started working to bring Azure to China back in November 2012. The companies then announced in May 2013 that a preview would be available in June.

Between then and now, more than 3,000 customers in China have signed up for Microsoft Azure, including CNTV, LineKong, GMW.cn, and Coca-Cola China. 21Vianet has been delivering Microsoft’s cloud services to these companies, but now they are available to all.

Microsoft has previously described the number of firms that it could sell its multi-tenant cloud services to as being in the “millions.” Whether that can be achieved remains to be seen, but entering the Chinese market before competitors Amazon and Google do is certainly helpful as a big head start.

See also – Microsoft confirms Windows Azure will become Microsoft Azure on April 3 and Microsoft launches Windows Azure for Research to give scientists cloud-based data collections and tools

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