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Microsoft updates its government pitch with new Office 365 version

Jeremy Stanley

IT pros that work in public offices might have another reason to consider Office 365 as Microsoft delivered a version that targets government.

Office 365 for Government differs from the other multi-tenant

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enterprise versions in that it segregates US government data into its own community cloud.

"It's a basically a continuation of their strategy -- going after governments," said Carl Brooks, analyst at Tier1 Research, based in New York City. 

The bundle includes the same products IT customers expect -- Exchange, Lync and SharePoint Online and Office Professional Plus.

The move is an extension of the company's Business Productivity Online Suite arm for federal governments, which offered online versions of the similar products.

This version could appeal to government organizations that want the benefits of cloud, such as flexibility and on-demand resources.

"You can do things in the cloud that may not be the forte of [a governmental organization]" said Wes Miller, analyst at Directions on Microsoft. "It lets them focus on their own operational efficiency."

In addition, there's growing pressure to move to clouds, Brooks said, citing Data.gov and data center consolidation initiatives as an example.

Office 365 for Government pricing is the same as enterprise plan pricing, ranging from $8 per user per month to $20 per user per month for qualifying government customers. The company slashed prices of those plans in March.

Cloud security remains a concern for government IT

The Office 365 for Government service supports international and regional standards, among them: ISO 27001, HIPAA and the US Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), wrote Kirk Koenigsbauer, Microsoft corporate vice president in a blog post.

That would dispel one potential concern as governmental data will stay within the U.S. border if it's in compliance with these certifications.

Still, any IT organization eyeing a migration to a public cloud service should consider the security implications, and government IT may worry about security even more than other industries.

"I'd be concerned if they weren't," Miller said.

Plus, migrating from an on-premises infrastructure to Microsoft's cloud service takes both time and money.

At the federal level, governmental organizations might hesitate to risk the capital expenditure toward cloud unless they ask the right questions and create budgetary plans first, said Brooks.

At the same time, in government, "people are asked to do more with the same amount of money," said Brooks.

The IT budget will shrink if it goes unused, so it's beneficial to weigh all options before jumping in.

By investing in the cloud, Brooks said, it's more about deferring monthly cost and "reshuffling where the money goes" in a department. "[Organizations] like cloud because they think they're getting more. [They prefer] agility rather than cost savings," Brooks said.