Microsoft has won a major cloud computing contract with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which will see the department’s shift its email and productivity applications over to Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure.

Microsoft is billing the announcement as one of the largest federal cloud deployments to date. It will see the USDA move 120,000 users over to Microsoft Online Services. In the process it will consolidate 21 different messaging and collaboration systems into one. The shift will take place within the next month.

“This is really about increasing collaboration and communications across the breadth of 120,000 users in 5,000 offices across the country and 100 countries around the globe to better serve on the USDA’s mission,” Chris Smith, the USDA’s chief information officer, said in a statement.

The USDA will use Microsoft Exchange Online for messaging and calendaring, SharePoint Online for document collaboration, Office Communications Online for instant messaging, and Office Live Meeting for Web conferencing.

Smith said adopting cloud-based applications will offer a number of benefits including improved collaboration capabilities, faster access to new features and upgrades, and the ability to scale up or down to meet the department’s needs.

“Basically, the car we owned was getting ready for a major engine overhaul,” he said. “All our servers were at least three years old. We’re going from owning the car and paying for the tires, the oil and the upkeep, to basically buying a Zip car that’s wherever we need it, when we need it.”

The USDA is the latest in a string of government cloud contracts Microsoft has won recently. In the past few months it has signed deals with the State of California, State of Minnesota, and New York City.


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