During all the hoopla around the Office 365 release, Microsoft promised that everyone would be able to do everything with it, including the government. Then everything went quiet. We didn’t hear much about the government, Microsoft, the cloud and Office 365, until a recent blog post indicated that Microsoft hadn’t forgotten and was getting something ready for government use.
New Office 365 SKU?
The blog post, which appeared on Microsoft’s FutureFed blog and written by Microsoft US Public Sector VP Curt Kolcun, said little, but enough to get the noses of a cloud and Microsoft watchers twitching. It suggests that another SKU is in the works for Office 365.
Here’s what the blog post said:
Today we offer our customers the choice between Office 365 public or private cloud solutions hosted in a dedicated ITAR or multi-tenant environment.
We’re also committed to delivering a government community cloud for our US customers. We’re proud of the work we’ve done and are doing to ensure all Office 365 offerings support industry standards such as ISO 27001, SSAE 16, HIPAA and FISMA/FedRAMP.”
It also said that those who wanted to build and manage their own private cloud infrastructure would be able to do so using the Windows Server with Hyper-V and System Center.
Office 365 and BPOS-F
According to ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley, this means that Microsoft is preparing something like its BPOS-F hosted offering, the F in this case signifying Federal.
BPOS-F was designed to give the public sector Microsoft-hosted Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Office Communications Online and Live Meeting, and stood in direct competition to Google Apps for Government.
Released last year, access to these systems is limited by biometric access to controls to a small number of US citizens who have undergone serious background checks.
Foley also says that a spokesperson for Microsoft said the “government community cloud” referred to by Kolcum will enable users to store data in separate, government-only environments that will offer things like FISMA and FedRAMP as is needed.
The “dedicated ITAR” mention, she says, refers to Microsoft’s private-cloud, on-premises Office 365 offering, anchored by Windows Server.
The FutureFed post says little more about this particular product, but does shed some light on where Microsoft wants to go with the government and cloud computing.
Microsoft, Cloud Computing, and Government
Kolcun says that the cloud “conversation” in government IT is too narrow and restrictive and that while most are starting with email, many haven’t gone further than that.
It seems that many people IT for government agencies haven’t really nailed down what they mean when they talk about cloud computing.
Kolcun cites the example of private clouds that many still don’t really consider real cloud clouds despite the fact that, in the case of the Army, for example, private clouds are saving the Department of Defense small fortunes in computing costs.
He says that unlike Microsoft’s competitors, it is not pursuing a “one size fits all” strategy and that what fits for one department wont necessarily fit for another. A diversity of missions requires a portfolio of solutions.
Microsoft, he says, is committed to offering the government any kind of cloud it wants and needs, which will see it offering Office 365 and components with support of all standards like ISO 27001, SSAE 16, HIPAA and FISMA/FedRAMP, where it doesn’t already support them already
It also says that it will continue to develop its hybrid offerings as many agencies are still not ready for full cloud commitment and will continue to look for on-premises and cloud hybrid offerings.