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Microsoft has found itself a big market for cloud services in India's national government. Starting this year, the Indian government will deploy Microsoft Software-as-a-Service solutions to about 7.5 million users in the education market.

The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) has announced that it will be partnering with Microsoft in adopting the latter's [email protected] cloud service. This government agency will be deploying Microsoft's education-oriented collaboration suite to about 7 million students and 500,000 staff members. With this contract, the AICTE will be Microsoft's biggest cloud customer to date, and will help bolster Microsoft's presence in the cloud computing industry.

The rollout of [email protected] among students from AICTE-accredited organizations will take place within the next three months, and is expected to be completed by September of this year. 10,000 technical colleges and institutes around the country will gain access to the service, which enables users to communicate, collaborate and share data.

Supporting Learning Through Collaboration

Aside from [email protected], the Indian government is also planning to deploy Office 365 once Microsoft launches its enterprise-grade service in the country later this year. With Office 365, AICTE -- and other Indian government agencies -- will be able to access Exchange Online, Lync Online, SharePoint Online and Office Professional.

The move to the cloud makes for an enriching educational experience, says officials. The organization has aimed to provide a platform that fosters efficiency and that will support educational reforms. "Microsoft's cloud platform will make for a truly progressive ecosystem and contribute to the country's technical education by providing a better communication and collaboration platform for institutes and students," notes AICTE Chairman S.S. Mantha.

According to Microsoft, the Indian government chose its offerings mainly due to the ease of integration with other services. Neil Jackson, Microsoft director for education in the Asia-Pacific region, says the government's previous cloud efforts were mainly a hybrid of different -- oft-incompatible -- services. "AICTE wanted to manage and organize e-mail under one umbrella to provide an environment for students and faculty to collaborate via a single gateway and a single sign-on," said Jackson.

Numbers Game

Meanwhile, it's not just Microsoft that's playing the numbers game. Google has announced a big win this January, by signing Spanish financial services company BBVA into Google Apps for Business, with 110,000 users. Microsoft upped the ante by signing 700,000 students in the state of Kentucky into [email protected] in what is considered the "largest cloud deployment in U.S. history."

However, 7.5 million users seems to beat them all, at least in terms of raw numbers. With this new addition, Microsoft now has almost 30 million using its cloud services for the education market, compared with Google's 14 million.

The figures are indicative of the potential of cloud services not only in the enterprise market, but also in education, where the low infrastructure costs of SaaS offerings are becoming more and more attractive to educational institutions.