There's a new Microsoft cloud with Uncle Sam's name on it. On Wednesday, Microsoft announced a version of its Office 365 cloud-based suite specifically designed for governmental use.
Office 365 is the online version of the venerable Office productivity suite. Office 365 for Government stores data in a segregated community cloud, and it includes the regular productivity and collaboration services -- Office Professional Plus, Exchange Online, Lync Online, and Sharepoint Online.
Security and Privacy
Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president of Microsoft Office, noted in a statement that the company knows about government's need for privacy and security, especially when clouds are involved. "Security and privacy play a big role in any decision to move to the cloud," he said.
To help assuage those concerns, Office 365 for Government meets such global and regional standards as ISO 27001, SAS70 Type II, EU Safe Harbor, EU Model Clauses, the U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the U.S. Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and the U.S. Federal Information Security Management Act.
By September, IPv6 will be supported, and, soon, so will Criminal Justice Information Security policies.
In terms of infrastructure, Microsoft is gearing up for federal governmental business. Last fall, the company announced it would spend $150 million to construct a new data center in Boydton, Va., to accompany the $499 million one already under way nearby.
Additionally, the company is spending about three-quarters of a billion dollars on new data centers in Des Moines, Iowa, and Dublin, Ireland.
Feds Move to the Cloud
Industry observers have speculated that the simultaneous construction of so much data center capacity is intended primarily to support Office 365 and the Windows Azure platform cloud for developers, in addition to other services.
In February of last year, then-U.S. Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra issued a Federal Cloud Computing Strategy document. In it, he pointed to major changes in computing policies and strategies for the government. "An estimated $20 billion of the Federal Government's $80 billion in IT spending is a potential target for migrating to cloud computing solutions," he wrote.
By transitioning to more cloud-based resources, Kundra said, server efficiency could be improved by as much as 70 percent.
Charles King, an analyst with industry research firm Pund-IT, noted that the public sector remains very attractive to Microsoft, Google and other technology companies because the sector is "huge, and once you can get in, those contracts tend to get renewed."
He added that, while Microsoft Office remains the default productivity app for office work, the costs of Office on a per use or per customer basis "tend to be pricier" than, say, Google Apps.
The other issue about Office, King said, is that, "in order to make it commercially attractive, Microsoft has included many more features than most users need." On that comparison, he said, Google Apps might be more attractive, but, in the cloud-based Office 365, Microsoft can allow users to choose their feature options "in a more seamless fashion," thus reducing the price.