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Microsoft nets seven million students in Office 365 education deal

In April 2012 Microsoft Corporation announced an agreement with the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) to deploy Office 365 for education in more than 10,000 technical colleges and institutes throughout India. The deal means that the AICTE will become Microsoft's largest cloud customer to date, and will enable more than seven million students and almost 500,000 teaching and administrative staff to access the service.

Sanket Akerkar, Managing Director of Microsoft Corporation India Private Limited, expressed delight at the confidence shown by the AICTE in the Corporation. "Microsoft has always seen education as a priority area and believes that technology offers possibilities that can help empower not just teachers and students but collectively, India as a nation," he said.

Live@edu, Microsoft's current service for the education sector, is being deployed to the Indian education institutions this summer, and students and staff will join more than 22 million users in schools worldwide. It will then be transitioned to Office 365 for education when the update becomes available later in the year. Live@edu provides a suite which includes hosted email, Office Web Apps, instant messaging and SkyDrive storage, while the upgraded Office 365 for education will give access to Exchange Online email and scheduling, SharePoint Online and Lync Online.

The updated education service is essentially the same as Office 365 for enterprise but, like Live@edu, will be provided free to educational institutions. However, institutions may choose to upgrade from the free Plan 2, to the paid-for services available with Plan 3, such as Office Pro Plus, home use rights for up to five PCs, voicemail and advanced archive capability, or choose Plan 4 that comes with voice capability in addition to all the Plan 3 features. The agreement represents a significant coup for Microsoft, which has for some years been competing with Google to provide cloud suites to the education sector. However, given that the basic services are free, there will be little financial gain from the deployment.

Anthony Salcito, Microsoft's Vice President of worldwide education, has been quoted as saying: "Even though it is provided for free, we see it as a value for Microsoft and for the school system. This is allowing the governing body and school leaders to have a communication pipeline to a broad set of students and not only improve collaboration across the system but provide a rich set of tools for students in the cloud. That would be difficult using traditional models [software]."

The bigger issue here is the growth of its customer base where students are Microsoft's major target group. It is likely that familiarity with the Microsoft service from school and university days will make them more likely to deploy it when they are in position to choose Office 365 in the workplace. With its fast-growing economy India seems set to prove a fertile ground for Microsoft business development in the future.

There are a number of factors that are likely to have influenced the AICTE's decision to deploy the Microsoft service. The technology sector is one of the fastest growing of the burgeoning Indian economy and high quality technical education is seen as being vital to maintain this growth. "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," said Dr. S. S. Mantha, Chairman of AICTE. Another factor is the system's ease of interoperation with Microsoft's other products,

The size of the country and the fact that colleges can be situated in very remote locations makes the communication and collaboration that feeds good practice particularly challenging. The enhanced capabilities offered by Office 365 will aid not only individual learning through increased opportunities for video conferencing and document collaboration, but also teaching and administration. The AICTE is part of the government's Ministry of Human Resource Development and its role in overseeing institutions offering technical education requires a system of fast and efficient communication that will facilitate the delivery of planned educational reforms. It will also simplify IT management and thus reduce costs.

Developing the skills of India's youth is an important part of the plan for continued growth and is the subject of a National Policy in which the public-private partnership plays an essential role, said Kapil Sibbal, Union Minister for Human Resource Development. He went on to congratulate both Microsoft and the AICTE on what he called a significant milestone.