San Francisco moves onto the cloud with Microsoft

Microsoft snares big cloud win in rival Google's backyard

In a big cloud computing win for Microsoft, the San Francisco city and county government on Wednesday announced that it's moving from multiple email systems to Microsoft's cloud-based email.

Migration to the new cloud email system has already begun and will continue over the next 12 months, according to San Francisco CIO Jon Walton, speaking at a press conference. The move, which affects more than 23,000 employees across 60 departments and agencies, will set up workers on Microsoft Exchange Online, which is part of Microsoft's new cloud-based version of its Office suite. The service will cost $1.2 million per year and will help the city achieve a mandated 20% budget reduction.

"We like to know our emails are protected," said Walton. "We like to know our data is protected. We like to know employees can get access to their email anywhere in the world. Email is one of those key systems that is really critical to providing government service."

Shawn McCarthy, an analyst at IDC, said going to the cloud is a good move for government agencies.

"Basically, cloud services give government IT departments the opportunity to relieve some pressure on them," McCarthy said. "Every department needs email, but every department doesn't need to manage their own email server. When you maintain servers, they need upgrades, patch configuration management.... Going with the cloud lets IT managers focus on what is core to their divisions."

This is a good day for Microsoft, which has been waging war with rival Google in the cloud-based office software market. Google got into the game first. But Microsoft has been putting a lot of muscle behind its efforts to gain a foothold, launching a beta of Office 365 -- the product that officially took its ubiquitous Office apps to the cloud.

Tom Rizzo, senior director of Microsoft Online Services, told Computerworld last week that Office 365 is out of its initial beta and now is in a public beta. He declined to say how many companies are participating in the public beta, but he did say that he's expecting the official launch "later this year."

Walton said that he considered Google's cloud apps but went with Microsoft because its email service fit in well with the other Microsoft apps that the city and county already use.

"It was unanimous between all the CIOs in the city that the Exchange platform was the one to adopt," added Walton. "It wasn't a point decision just about email. We had to consider that it was an email solution that was complimentary to the other solutions we're employing in the city. We really see it as the best fit for where we're going over the next five years."

San Francisco's announcement may take some of the sting out of the outage that hit Microsoft's hosted email customers recently. Several outages occurred last week between Tuesday and Thursday, leaving customers with hours of downtime.

Walton, though, said the outages didn't worry him.

"We see what happened last week with the Microsoft outage as a point of why we made this decision," he added. "We lost no messages. We were in close contact with Microsoft. When the issue was resolved and we started receiving email again, since no email was lost, we saw it as a delay of four hours."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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