Behind the DVA's decision to move 450,000 users to Microsoft's cloud
For the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), moving 450,000 e-mailboxes (and the associated calendars) from its existing infrastructure to the Microsoft Office 365 for Government cloud wasn't so much a choice as it was a necessity.
The VA's legacy Microsoft Exchange servers were about decade old, says Charles De Sanno, Executive Director of Enterprise Systems Engineering for the department, and were already pushing the limits of what the system could withstand. As one of the largest healthcare organizations in the world, public sector or otherwise, the VA was spending $5 million a year in hardware maintenance alone -- not including cooling, power, or even staff salary.
That's hardly ideal, and three years ago, when it came time to start the modernization process, the cloud was at the top of De Sanno's list of options to investigate, even if he was uncertain if the VA's relationship with Microsoft would continue (and regardless of the Federal CIO Office's Cloud First policy). After all, De Sanno says, merely upgrading the in-place infrastructure would have been a $65 million project on its own, and the VA -- and by extension, taxpayers -- would still be on the hook for those maintenance costs.
The official bidding process took place over the summer, and earlier in November, the VA announced that the $36 million, five-year contract for a Microsoft Office 365 cloud migration had been awarded to HP Enterprise Services.
Obviously, the potential cost benefits for the VA were too attractive to ignore. And De Sanno expects that even for this lowered cost, Microsoft Office 365's service level agreement (SLA) guarantees better uptime than he was getting in-house.
But when it comes to the cloud, cost is only a third of the equation. How can a governmental organization that took three years to settle on a route to upgrade its e-mail reap the cloud's promise of greater agility and employee collaboration? De Sanno's answer: Work within the system and leave the pathways clear.
That is, rather than have two separate bidding processes for a pilot program and a full deployment, De Sanno was able to get approved and offer up a contract that would first require the partner -- HP, as it turned out to be -- to complete a successful rollout of 15,000 seats in March 2013. After 6 to-90 days of careful observation and assurances that Microsoft Office 365 is, indeed, the right choice for the VA, the contract provides for the remaining 435,000 mailbox migrations without the need for a burdensome, extended competition process.
Similarly, Microsoft's PR for the VA's cloud migration project holds that the department is deploying 600,000 mailboxes. But in reality, De Sanno says that he's once again looking to avoid as much red tape as possible. Maybe there are only 450,000 employees and contractors at the VA who need an Office 365 mailbox today. But he'd rather not have to go through the bureaucracy when they need to go over that number.
As for software-as-a-service, De Sanno says that collaboration may well be in the VA's future. The contract with HP allows for the addition of the full range of Microsoft Office 365 services, including cloud-hosted versions of Microsoft SharePoint and Microsoft Office in addition to the existing e-mail deployments, without needing to go through the contract process.
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