Microsoft Scores With USDA In Cloud Computing Conflict With Google

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the latest government agency to pick a side in the continuing cloud computing competition between Microsoft and Google; and the USDA is making the move to Microsoft.

The USDA's migration to Microsoft's cloud computing offerings comes the same month that Google touted signing on the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) to its Google Apps for Government cloud computing offering. In that instance, Google beat out Microsoft for the GSA cloud computing deal, which will move 17,000 GSA employees and contractors to Google's cloud and is expected to save $15 million over five years. The GSA deal is billed as the first agency-wide federal cloud e-mail deployment.

According to the USDA, the company will soon go live with a commercial cloud service offering for its Enterprise Messaging Service (EMS), which comprises e-mail, Web conferencing, document collaboration and instant messaging. The leap to the cloud makes the USDA the first Cabinet-level agency to move its e-mail and collaboration applications to the cloud.

The USDA contract will consolidate 120,000 users spread across 21 e-mail systems. The contract was inked in May with Dell as the lead partner offering Microsoft Online Services cloud computing solutions. The deployment will include Microsoft Exchange Online for messaging and calendaring, Microsoft Office SharePoint Online for document collaboration, Microsoft Office Communications Online for instant messaging and Microsoft Office Live Meeting for Web conferencing.

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Overall, the USDA's migration to the Microsoft cloud is part of the agency's continuing effort to streamline its messaging platforms, cut costs and improve efficiency while extending its existing on-premise software investments into the cloud.

"USDA's IT modernization will allow us to streamline our operations and help us use taxpayer dollars more efficiently. With a focused cloud road map, we saw a clear opportunity to help achieve our cost savings and consolidation goals and tap into the promise of the cloud," Chris Smith, USDA CIO, said in a statement.

Within the next few weeks, USDA expects to begin moving its 120,000-plus users to the cloud. Smith said the cloud upgrade was becoming more and more necessary as the USDA's IT infrastructure aged and grew cumbersome.

"Basically, the car we owned was getting ready for a major engine overhaul," Smith said, in a statement posted by Microsoft about the USDA's move to the cloud. ’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."

The USDA joins a growing list of federal, state and local government agencies that have decided to make the leap to the cloud. In October, Microsoft revealed that New York City is making the move to its cloud computing services. NYC joins the states of California and Minnesota that have given their cloud allegiance to Microsoft.

Next: Microsoft vs. Google: The Continuing Cloud Computing Competition

"The past few months have marked a transformative time in government IT, with the state of California, the state of Minnesota, and New York City each embracing cloud computing and choosing Microsoft's cloud solutions," said Curt Kolcun, Microsoft's vice president of U.S. Public Sector, in a statement. "And now that momentum is carrying into the federal sector, with this groundbreaking implementation from USDA."

Microsoft hopes the USDA deal encourages more federal agencies to eye Microsoft as its federal cloud computing competition with Google heats up. The version of Microsoft Online Services that the USDA will use has received the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) Authorization to Operate, meaning it meets the security, compliance and privacy needs of the federal government. Additionally, the USDA's cloud computing service will be housed on separate, dedicated infrastructure and physical access to the systems is protected by biometric controls to a small number of approved individuals in compliance with International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and that have undergone background checks and fingerprinting.

The USDA's move the cloud computing also comes on the heels of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) revealing that the U.S. government will take a "cloud-first" approach to IT in a bid to cut costs and consolidate more than 2,000 federal data centers, which the government hopes to reduce by 40 percent come 2015.

Microsoft winning the USDA deal is the next chapter in the ongoing cloud computing competition between Microsoft and chief cloud rival Google. The two had initially battled head-to-head for the GSA cloud computing contract, with Google coming out the victor. Microsoft and Google have also sparred over other high profile government contracts, including the cloud computing systems for the City of Los Angeles, which Google ultimately won.

The contentious cloud computing conflict between Microsoft and Google also prompted Google to sue the U.S. Department of the Interior alleging that the bidding process for the government body's cloud-based e-mail and collaboration system was skewed to favor Microsoft. The Department of the Interior deal is reportedly worth roughly $59 million.

Meanwhile, Microsoft and Google have also engaged in a war of words sparked by their cloud computing competition that earlier this month prompted one Microsoft executive to say that Google's heart isn't in cloud computing.

Microsoft and Google have also volleyed back-and-forth around cloud computing features and functions. Google has heavily pushed its migration tools to move users off of Microsoft products like Exchange and Outlook and has stumped to get users off of Microsoft Office and onto its cloud-based Google Docs productivity suite.

Microsoft has launched a host of cloud-focused offerings with its Windows Azure platform, Office 2010 with Web Apps and Microsoft Office 365, which is the latest iteration of Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) cloud computing applications play and comprises Office, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Lync Online.