San Francisco grabs onto the cloud with Microsoft

Microsoft snares big cloud win in rival Google's backyard

In a big cloud computing win for Microsoft, the city and county of San Francisco announced Wednesday that it is moving workers 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 encompassing 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 Office apps offering. The service will cost $1.2 million per year and will help the city achieve a 20% mandated 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, a research director with 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 over the cloud-based office apps space. Google got to the game first but Microsoft has been putting a lot of muscle behind its efforts to get a strong foothold, launching a beta of Office 365 that officially took its ubiquitous Office suite 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 said 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 run.

"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 Microsoft's recent outage that hit its hosted email customers. Several outages hit last week between Tuesday and Thursday, leaving customers with hours of downtime.

Walton, though, said the outages didn't worry him at all about his choice.

"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 e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com .

Read more about cloud computing in Computerworld's Cloud Computing Topic Center.

This story, "San Francisco grabs onto the cloud with Microsoft" was originally published by Computerworld.

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