USDA Moves to Microsoft’s Cloud

Microsoft had this press release on their site today: “USDA Moves 120,000 Users to Microsoft’s Cloud“.

Apparently, the US Department of Agriculture is moving 120,000 users to Microsoft’s cloud offering for Exchange Online for messaging and calendaring, SharePoint Online for document collaboration, Office Communications Online for instant messaging, and Office Live Meeting for Web conferencing. I could not discern whether or not that meant they’d be using Office Word/Excel/Powerpoint in the cloud or not. It’s not specifically mentioned so I guess they are keeping productivity software locally.

According to their CIO, Chris Smith, USDA was at a decision point. They had 21 different messaging and collaboration systems and they were going to have to make some hardware investments. He said:

Basically, the car we owned was getting ready for a major engine overhaul,” he said. “All our servers were at least three years old. We’re going from owning the car and paying for the tires, the oil, and the upkeep to basically buying a Zip car that’s wherever we need it, whenever we need it.

I blogged about my similar situation back in May, where I was faced with similar hardware investments. The business case was there except for the Blackberry element. And there was an issue with AD and an additional sign-on which they said would be resolved by year-end. So if those two situations are now neutralized, I can personally vouch that the business case is definitely there. Hopefully, the industry trade rags and watch dogs will dig into this in the coming months and identify any other downsides.

This will likely be a new trend. Late last month, The Washington Post reported that all federal agencies were being asked to consider cheaper cloud alternatives.

Jeffrey Zients, the federal government’s first chief performance officer, announced last week that the Office of Management and Budget will now require federal agencies to default to cloud-based solutions “whenever a secure, reliable, cost-effective cloud option exists.”