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Microsoft Woos University Customers to Cloud Computing Offerings

Microsoft is using the Educause conference this week to crow about wins in the cloud computing arena--including new higher ed customers for both its Live@edu offering and its Business Productivity Online Suite.

The company said newly signed users for Live@edu, its hosted e-mail, communications, and collaboration suite, include Seton Hall; the Universities of Washington, Missouri, and Cincinnati; Ohio University; and the Colorado Community College System.

Seton Hall, a private Catholic university in South Orange and Newark, NJ, moved to Live@edu to replace an implementation of IBM Lotus Notes 7 used for e-mail. The university also considered Google Apps for Education but chose to focus on Live@edu, citing its interoperability with Office programs on student computers.

The university piloted the service with 100 students in March 2008 and then deployed about 15,000 Live@edu accounts for faculty and students in fall 2008. In January 2009 all student mailboxes were moved to the new service, which also included 25 GB of Windows Live SkyDrive online storage. Now the university is rolling out the service to alumni.

"When we deploy Live@edu to our 70,000 alumni, we can bring them back as active and engaged members of the community," said CIO Stephen Landry.

Professor John H. Shannon in the Stillman School of Business at Seton Hall uses Live@edu to text with students. "Live@edu is a platform that allows students to get creative," he said. "They are using the services to learn how to operate in a world where virtual collaboration is going to be the rule, not the exception."

During the conference, Microsoft announced that it would be offering new SharePoint Online-based collaboration and productivity services as part of Live@edu next year. These services are expected to give administrators the ability to access and manage permissions to sites, documents, and content and provide more flexibility and control to set up and manage collaboration and productivity tools. Students will be able to create, edit, and access content from their school's site from anywhere; organize, track, and share classroom information, interests, and expertise; and locate colleagues, comparable to standard practices of SharePoint among business users.

Several institutions have also gone public with deployments of Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite, which comprises Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Office Communications Online, and Office Live Meeting. The customers have all signed on for some aspect of the suite, which is a paid, hosted environment in the cloud managed by Microsoft. Both Hofstra and Belmont Universities are moving faculty and staff to Exchange Online. The state of Ohio has signed an Education Alliance Agreement with Microsoft that will bring a cloud computing approach to the entire state, including the University System of Ohio. That master services agreement covers purchases of Microsoft's Exchange Online, an e-mail, calendar, contact and task service; Live@edu; Office Web Apps, the lightweight version of the company's Office applications; and Microsoft Consulting Services and Microsoft Premier Support Services.

"The Education Alliance Agreement provides the University System of Ohio with major cost savings for messaging and collaboration products," said Chancellor Eric Fingerhut when the agreement was first announced at the beginning of October. "This agreement advances Ohio's 10-year "Strategic Plan for Higher Education" by supporting a common technology infrastructure through collaboration and group purchasing, which makes the University System of Ohio more efficient."

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