The Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) will provide email and collaboration applications to about 600,000 students via Microsoft's Live@EDU cloud suite, a project for which it also considered Google Apps for Education.
LACCD, the largest community college district in the US, plans to start the Live@EDU rollout in the autumn, focusing initially on its current students.
"This will become our official communication link with our students," said said LACCD CIO Jorge Mata.
LACCD plans to later include staff and professors, most of whom have email addresses on its various on-premise Exchange systems, as well as make Live@EDU available to about 2.5 million alumni.
"We're prioritising the active students and faculty first," he said.
Until now, it has been up to the LACCD's nine colleges to independently decide whether they offer e-mail to students via on-premise Microsoft Exchange e-mail systems. But the LACCD decided it wanted to offer all of its students an e-mail account, along with other collaboration applications, via a cloud-based suite, and thus piloted Live@EDU and Google Apps.
"It started as a project for students in the classroom, but it quickly evolved," he said, adding that the idea of having all students on a common email platform across all colleges soon gave rise to other potentially useful communications scenarios among other LACCD departments beyond the faculty, such as the financial aid and registrar teams.
In the end, Live@EDU won out over Google Apps for several reasons, including users' familiarity with the Microsoft products and their interfaces - primarily Outlook - as well as more back-end and front-end uniformity with the LACCD's on-premise Outlook/Exchange systems, Mata said.
While e-mail communication will be the primary application, Mata thinks other capabilities of Live@EDU will also be incorporated by users, including calendaring, IM and audio/video conferencing; and document creation, editing, storage, sharing and collaboration through SkyDrive and online versions of Microsoft productivity applications including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.
"Students and faculty, once they start learning all the capabilities, I expect they'll realize it's way more than email," Mata said.
This is a significant win for Microsoft, which is locked in a brutal battle of cloud-based email and collaboration suites with Google.
Microsoft critics faulted the company in recent years for what they perceived to be slow development of a viable alternative to Google Apps, which Google launched in 2006.
Last summer, Microsoft finally released Office 365, a significant upgrade to its Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) that competes directly with Google Apps.
Plan A3, which will cost $2.50 per month for students and $4.50 per month for faculty and staff, will add components including Office Pro Plus, the right to use the suite at home on up to five PCs, voicemail and advanced archive capability. An even more sophisticated version, Plan A4, will cost $3 per month for students and $6 per month for faculty and staff.
IDG News Service