Microsoft Signs Massive Cloud Apps Deal

By Stuart J. Johnston

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In what might be viewed as a victory for Microsoft and a loss for Google, the Kentucky Department of Education has signed up 700,000 students, faculty, and staff for free e-mail, instant messaging, and online storage running on the software giant's cloud services.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) officials in a statement called the agreement "the largest [C]loud deal in the United States." It may turn out to be the communications and collaboration model for education systems, and their IT staffs, in years to come.

The service -- known as Live@edu -- is free, which played a part in the Kentucky Department of Education's move. By switching e-mail services to Microsoft's Cloud computing environment, the state was able to ditch 180 on-premises servers running Microsoft Exchange Server 2003. The e-mail is now being hosted on Microsoft-hosted servers running Exchange Server 2010.

"The move to Live@edu helps us avoid some $6.3 million in costs over four years we'd otherwise have to make to upgrade and maintain our previous system," Chuck Austin, who works in the Office of Education Technology for the Kentucky Department of Education, said in a guest posting on the Official Microsoft Blog.

"By signing up for Live@edu, schools gain access to a comprehensive suite of services ... a set of free hosted and co-branded collaboration and communication services for students, alumni, and faculty," a Microsoft spokesperson said in an e-mail to InternetNews.com.

That includes Outlook Live for e-mail, Office Live Workspace for sharing documents and collaborating with others, Windows Live Messenger for instant messaging, and Windows Live SkyDrive, which provides each user with 25GB of online storage, the spokesperson added.

What's more, much of the deployment has already been accomplished. Microsoft officials boast that a half a million seats were deployed in a single weekend near the end of May.

It's a big victory over Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), which has its own Google Apps for Education program that competes with Live@edu. Last fall, in a high-visibility deal with the Los Angeles City Council, Google triumphed over Microsoft in a bid to replace the city's aging e-mail system with Google's free suite. That deal only covers 30,000 users.

Such deals are hard fought between the two rivals even though the services themselves are free. Like Google's service, users can access all of the Live@edu services via popular Web browsers on PCs and Macs, including Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari.

At this point, Microsoft is claiming that it has some 11 million users signed up for Live@edu. By comparison, Google claims more than eight million users for its Google Apps for Education offering.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.