Microsoft Takes Cloud Competition To School With Office 365 For Education

The cloud competition between Microsoft and Google is going to school as Microsoft preps to launch Office 365 for Education, a version of its new cloud productivity offering aimed specifically at learning institutions.

Microsoft this week gave an early look at Microsoft Office 365 for Education, which Microsoft will release next year. The software giant said its education-focused cloud suite will offer all of the same features and functions that Microsoft Office 365 for enterprises offers and geared toward teachers and students.

"Office 365 for education will include everything available in Office 365 for enterprises, helping teachers save time and manage their curricula while giving students access to tools that make learning more inspiring, relevant and collaborative," Microsoft Vice President, Worldwide Public Sector Education, Anthony Salcito, wrote in a blog post announcing Office 365 for Education. Office 365 for Education will replace Microsoft Live@edu, its cloud offering for education. Office 365 for Education builds on Live@edu's Exchange Online and adds SharePoint Online, Lync Online and Office Professional Online, which includes Office Web Apps.

Schools have become the new cloud battleground for Microsoft and chief cloud foe Google, with both cloud colossi flaunting their higher education conquests.

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According to Microsoft, Live@edu has drawn more than 22 million users and 27,000 new people sign up daily, resulting in year-over-year growth of 100 percent. Calling Live@edu "the most widely used cloud productivity service for education," Microsoft is boasting new schools to join its cloud education play with institutions like Southern State Community College in Ohio, New Mexico State, Florida State and University of Colorado at Boulder.

Meanwhile, during its Atmosphere 2011 conference this week at its Mountain View, Calif. headquarters, Google also touted its penetration in education, citing that 62 of the top 100 U.S. schools as selected by the U.S. News and World Report are running Google Apps, its Office 365 rival.

According to a recent Google blog post, the Campus Computing Project named "Google as the leading provider of outsourced cloud-based campus e-mail services." That survey found that 89 percent of higher education institutions are using or considering using cloud-based solutions. Among four-year colleges and universities, including community colleges, that have already moved to the cloud, more than 56 percent are using Google. Google added that 64 percent of public universities and 66 percent of private universities are among Google's education cloud customers. Schools in the U.S. that have selected Google include Harvard University, University of Texas at Austin, Wellesley College and Stanford Graduate School of Business, Google has said.

"There's no question the cloud has become an important asset for schools and universities," Microsoft's Salcito wrote. "It enhances the educational experience and fosters 24/7 learning across multiple devices, while enabling skills development to help students prepare for their futures."

Next: Education Cloud Is Next Microsoft-Google Battleground

Education now joins government and enterprise as the latest theater where Microsoft and Google will wage cloud war and battle for customers. The pair already battles for customers in different markets and just this week took strategic jabs at each other, each claiming that the other lacked cloud chops.

"Our business is doing very well, and we are not seeing Google get much traction," Microsoft Director Tom Rizzo wrote in a blog post this week. Rizzo attacked Google's claims that companies are "going Google," adding that few businesses are actually deploying Google Apps. And for those that actually roll out Google, they aren't replacing Microsoft Office.

"Even those who roll out Google Apps aren’t replacing Office," Rizzo said. "We interviewed more than 90 small and medium-sized organizations using Google Apps across five countries and found that nine in ten still use Office. The ultimate example is Google themselves, who still require PowerPoint and Excel in numerous job postings on their web site. Even Google cannot seem to Go Google."

Google, however, attacked those claims. In a keynote presentation at Atmosphere, Google Vice President of Enterprise Sales and Operations Amit Singh said Google is actually wooing cloud customers away from Microsoft. At the same time, Google's stable of cloud reseller partners are prepping for battle against Microsoft in the cloud sales trenches.

"Thousands of customers -- thousands every day -- are turning off their Microsoft servers and moving to Google Apps … I think we're doing a bit of winning ourselves," Singh said.