Microsoft to add government cloud offering to its Office 365 line-up

It sounds like there's a new Office 365 SKU coming that is aimed specifically at U.S. government customers.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft is working on a new Office 365 offering that is meant to appeal specifically to U.S. government customers.

With its Office 365 predecessor -- the bundle of Microsoft-hosted apps known as the Business Productivity Online (BPOS) suite -- Microsoft offered government customers a BPOS-F (Federal) option. The BPOS-F SKU was one of three BPOS SKUs, the other two of which were BPOS-S (Standard) and BPOS-D (Dedicated).

BPOS-F was a highly locked-down bundle of Microsoft-hosted SharePoint, Exchange and Communications Server. “Physical access to those (BPOS Federal) systems is limited by biometric access controls to a small number of individuals who, in compliance with International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), must be citizens of the United States who have undergone rigorous background checks, including fingerprinting,” according to the Microsoft press release announcing BPOS-F last year.

When Microsoft introduced Office 365 last summer, officials said that while they would continue offer both Standard and Dedicated SKUs, the hope and belief was that the "D" SKU would be phased out in the not-too-distant future because the multi-tenant "S" would be more than good enough.But company officials had nothign specific to say about how, when and if Microsoft intended to provide an Office 365 offering for government customers.

Earlier this month, on March 1, Microsoft officials blogged on the FutureFed site that another SKU was in the works for Office 365. The post described this as a "government community cloud for our US customers" but offered no further timing or details. (I discovered this blog post thanks to a March 1 ComputerWorld story mentioning it.)

Here are the scant details available so far from the FutureFed post:

"Today we offer our customers the choice between Office 365 public or private cloud solutions hosted in a dedicated ITAR or multi-tenant environment.  We’re also committed to delivering a government community cloud for our US customers. We’re proud of the work we’ve done and are doing to ensure all Office 365 offerings support industry standards such as ISO 27001, SSAE 16, HIPAA and FISMA/FedRAMP (Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program). For those customers who prefer to build and manage their own private cloud infrastructures, we’ve empowered them to do so with tools like Windows Server with Hyper-V and System Center....

"As government cloud requirements evolve, so will Microsoft’s portfolio. We’re committed to providing customers with the broadest options based on government requirements such as FedRAMP."

Translation: The "dedicated ITAR" mention refers to Microsoft's private-cloud, on-premises Office 365 offering, anchored by Windows Server. This is currently the closes equivalent to BPOS-F that Microsoft has for Office 365 customers. The coming "government community cloud" seems to be something different, and more like the Microsoft BPOS-F hosted offering.

"A government community cloud for US customers will enable customer data to be stored in separate, government-only environment. Our intent is to provide for unique government requirements such as FISMA and FedRAMP as customers require it," a spokesperson told me via email.

So maybe this government community cloud is some kind of public-cloud variant of Office 365, but with more locked-down guarantees/restrictions? At this point, I am not 100 percent sure, and Microsoft isn't sharing more information.

Meanwhile, in other Microsoft cloud news, Microsoft is trimming prices for its Windows Azure public cloud offering on top of what it already did around SQL Azure in February of this year. The latest cuts, announced on March 8, are for Windows Azure storage and compute.

Editorial standards