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Microsoft touts cloud computing customers

Ahead of its financial analyst meeting in Redmond, the software maker announces that Hyatt Hotels, Dow Chemical and the University of Georgia will use its hosted e-mail and portal products.

REDMOND, Wash.--Aiming to show it is still winning customers against Google, Microsoft on Thursday announced deals to provide hosted e-mail and portal software to three big corporate customers.

The software maker said Dow Chemical, Hyatt Hotels, and the University of Georgia are all using the company's hosted e-mail and portal software, known as Microsoft Online. The announcements were timed to come just as Microsoft is set to host its financial analyst meeting here. (I'll be covering the day-long event live, starting around 8 a.m. PT)

In an interview, Hyatt CIO Mike Blake said the company, which had been running Lotus Notes, chose Microsoft after considering cloud-based options from Google, Microsoft and IBM's Lotus division.

"I would not say that I was a Microsoft zealot," Blake said. "I worked most of my career to find ways not to use Microsoft. I'm a huge Apple fan."

However, going with Microsoft allowed the company to not only provide e-mail to its current group of PC-equipped workers but also to 40,000 additional "deskless" workers, such as housekeepers and porters that historically haven't had work e-mail. Although that might have been possible with both Google and Microsoft, Blake said when it came to cost "Microsoft was probably a little more compelling."

And while Blake said he personally enjoyed the fact that Google was constantly innovating, he said more of his workers prefer stability where they can rely on programs working a certain way until a scheduled upgrade.

"Microsoft offers a proven solution," Blake said. "Google is still is working through it. Will they work through it? I am sure they will. The Google people were outstanding and probably the brightest people I'd ever met."

Hyatt plans to fully move to the Microsoft products by the first quarter of next year, with many workers getting access before the end of this year.

Meanwhile, Dow Chemical decided to move from Exchange servers to hosted exchange after considering a variety of private cloud options. Among the selling points of Microsoft's products was the fact that the company's workers were already familiar with the products that make up Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite, or BPOS.

"They already know Outlook, they already know (Office Communications Server and they already know Live Meeting," said David Day, Dow's director of global IS operations. The big new product for Dow will be SharePoint, Microsoft's portal server, which Day said that the company had just been starting to adopt.

Dow plans to start piloting the hosted Microsoft products in the fourth quarter of this year and, assuming things go as planned, move fully next year as the company also moves its desktops to Windows 7, a move which should be done by the end of next year.

Day said that the company didn't consider Google or other public cloud options because of security and privacy concerns.