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2/24/2011
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Local Governments Embrace The Cloud Faster Than Feds

State and local governments are moving more quickly than their federal counterparts to adopt Web-based services, according to a Microsoft executive.

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While the public sector in general is moving to cloud computing for a number of reasons, state and local governments in particular are making the leap faster than their counterparts at the federal level, a Microsoft government executive said this week.

"I think state and local may be moving a little more quickly, especially at the local government level," Gail Thomas-Flynn, Microsoft's vice president of state and local government, said in an interview with InformationWeek. "There’s an opportunity to be a little more agile at the local government."

Microsoft held its annual Public Sector CIO Summit this week and unveiled 14 new public-sector cloud deals that show the gains the vendor is making at the state and local level to bring cloud-computing services to the public sector.

The cities of Chicago, Andover, Minn. Virginia Beach, Va., and Carlsbad, Calif. were among the local governments Microsoft recently signed up for its cloud services, while agencies in Colorado and Idaho were among state government wins.

Thomas-Flynn cited great interest in cloud computing from customers seeking to cut costs as well as an investment by the company to focus on government market for the uptick in public sector deals in the last 12 to 18 months.

"I think timing is right to consider these kinds of models both to reduce costs and make more predictable payment structures," she said.

Right now, she said, Microsoft is signing up a new customer a week for its cloud-computing offerings, though not necessarily in the public sector.

To bolster its support of bringing the cloud to the public sector, Microsoft about a year ago launched its Government Cloud Application Center, which showcases specific cloud-based applications developed for government customers, Thomas-Flynn said.

The applications include online 311, records management, project management, and other applications that local and state governments are beginning to deploy to provide better "citizen engagement" and also work more efficiently internally, she said. Microsoft's cloud application center mirrors a previously existing effort featuring on-premise versions of similar applications geared toward the public sector.

Microsoft has served government customers for more than 20 years, and Thomas-Flynn cited this as one of the company's competitive advantages in bringing its cloud-based services to the public sector.

She also said Microsoft's ability to transition customers from on-premise software to the cloud or allow them to have a hybrid environment, in contrast to a pure-cloud option offered by Google, one of its chief competitors in the public sector, as another edge for the vendor.

"Everything that we offer today that's on premise, we also are offering in the cloud," Thomas-Flynn said. "Our customers don't have to make a choice. It's not just cloud only – it's not an 'or' decision, it's an 'and' decision. That's been very successful with us."

That's a fundamental difference between Microsoft's and Google’s strategies to woo the public sector to cloud services, according to Google spokesperson Andrew Kovacs. "Microsoft's cloud-computing strategy is a filibuster," he said. "They want to keep people on their on-premise software as long as possible."

Kovacs said on-premise software is what people are trying to move away from when they look for cloud-computing options, and a pure-Web option like Google's provides more of the benefits of the cloud. "There's no software to manage, install, upgrade, and patch," he said. "You just refresh your browser to get the latest innovation."

Google recently highlighted several public-sector deals for its Google Apps for Government, including the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, the City of Rochester Hills in Michigan, and the state of Wyoming.

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