Microsoft Claims Big Cloud Customer Gains

BPOS and [email protected] services rack up seats, but it's tough to pin down totals.
Education Matters

Microsoft announced nine new customers of its Live.Edu suite on Monday, including California State University schools starting with San Francisco State University; CSU, Long Beach; California State Polytechnic University, Pomona; and State Center Community College District (California). Also on the list were University of Montana, Northern Kentucky University, the College of DuPage, Washington University in St. Louis, and Aston University in the United Kingdom.

You might hesitate to call these "customers" in that [email protected]'s Office Web Apps, Windows Live SkyDrive (online storage) and Exchange/Outlook-based e-mail and calendaring services are completely free. What college or university wouldn't want to take advantage of a free service to provision students -- at the very least -- with e-mail and calendaring capabilities (not that those students actually switch from Facebook or long-established Gmail accounts)?

In fact, there's stiff competition to provide these free services, and some institutions use them for faculty and administrators as well as students. Aston University, for one, tested both [email protected] and Google Apps to replace its aging Unix-based e-mail system. Google Apps are also free.

In a statement provided by Microsoft, Aston University's Steve Goodman, senior server engineer, said the school chose [email protected] because Google Apps didn't meet the university's requirements to "share calendars between students and staff; to meet University discovery and message tracking regulations; to manage dispute resolution and troubleshoot; to support geo-location of data within the European Union; and to host some of the student e-mail on premises."

Aston uses Exchange on premises as well, and it sounds like some of these requirements hinged on integration with on-premises servers. FYI, Google has seen these kinds of cloud-excluding requirements before, most recently in the State of California, according to Dave Methvin.

Make no mistake, Google is still Microsoft's most formidable cloud competitor, as the deal announced today with the State of New York clearly demonstrates. But the customer names and user numbers announced yesterday are impressive and encouraging, even if they are incomplete.

In my experience, IBM, Microsoft and Google all make a habit of providing only the rosiest figures while obfuscating the stats that matter most -- paid versus unpaid, cloud versus hosted and so on -- and making it next to impossible to do apples-to-apples comparisons across vendors.

The winner, in the end, is the cloud approach. On-premise deployments are now for fussy, particular requirements for the few, whereas the cloud deployments will handle the masses and do the heavy lifting.

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