More than 100,000 workers in Texas will be moved to the cloud in one of the largest cloud deployments in state government, Microsoft announced Feb. 15.

The contract, which will give state workers access to Office 365, will provide compliance with the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) and federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) security standards.

This ability to meet stringent security standards was one of the main reasons Texas chose Microsoft as a vendor over its competitors, said Todd Kimbriel, director of e-government for the Texas Department of Information Resources.

“One element in the public sector here in Texas that everyone holds in the highest regard is that we have to protect the information of the citizens,” he said, adding that CJIS security standards in particular provide an unmatched level of security.

“Anybody that's going to touch a computer system, server or mainframe where data exists has to go through an FBI background check,” he said. That means every administrator who has access to cloud data must first be vetted by the federal government.

Though this is the first contract in which Microsoft has signed a CJIS Security Addendum, the company's competitors like Amazon, for instance, could not have provided the state with that level of security, Kimbriel said.

Texas looked at all the major cloud vendors, he said, and while they liked the culture of innovation marketed by Google, Microsoft had a longer tradition of providing enterprise support that made them feel more comfortable. In addition, the cloud contract is a continuation of the state's past relationship with Microsoft, as many Texas agencies began using Microsoft Exchange five years ago.

But the contract wasn't just a matter of security and building on an old relationship, Kimbriel said -- it will also save the state money.

“We're paying about a 75 percent discount now compared to what we were paying a competitor four years ago,” he said.

The state initially plans to move about 110,000 employees onto Office 365 at a cost of about $3.50 per user, per month, or $4.60 annually. “And that's just the beginning,” Kimbriel said. “We're looking to expand that. I think several hundred thousand total employees is the ultimate employee count for the state.”

Eventually, he said, they would like to move all employees onto the Microsoft cloud, but the initial move of 110,000 will occur over the next three to four months.

“For us I think it's all about shared infrastructure,” Kimbriel said. “It's about trying to do license agreements and enterprise strategies. This is an optimized approach, he said, versus having 125 separate agencies trying to buy a product or a service. "Instead, do deals and use technology that will allow us to leverage collective buying power of the entire state.”

Though this is Microsoft's first CJIS-compliant deployment, it has fulfilled contracts with Chicago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Federal Aviation Administration, Minnesota, California and New York.

“One of the big things that government customers have to think about when moving to the cloud are areas around specific security and privacy laws, or regulations or policies that these customers ultimately have to comply with,” said Michael Donlan, Microsoft's vice president of U.S. state and local government affairs. “As you see a lot of government customers move to cloud, they're recognizing the importance of utilizing new technologies and choosing vendor that focuses heavily on the security and privacy aspects.”

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Colin Wood Colin Wood  |  Staff Writer

Colin has been writing for Government Technology since 2010. He lives in Seattle with his wife and their dog. He can be reached at cwood@govtech.com and on Google+.