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BNSF Railway stays on Microsoft's track as it moves to the cloud

BNSF Railway stays on Microsoft's track as it moves to the cloud

The railroad company is shifting its on-premises MIcrosoft email and collaboration systems to Office 365

When BNSF Railway decided it would move its Microsoft email and collaboration systems from its own premises to a public cloud, it considered suites from various vendors, but ultimately picked Office 365.

Its reasons were varied, but familiarity with Microsoft products and a long-standing relationship with the vendor were major factors in the decision.

That makes this customer "win," announced Thursday by the two companies, emblematic of a key goal Microsoft had for Office 365 when it launched the cloud email and collaboration suite in mid-2011: to have a competitive option to retain customers when they decide to move to the cloud.

This wasn't the case in the years prior to the launch of Office 365, when Microsoft stood in a weak position, bypassed by rivals large and small, including IBM and in particular Google, which tormented it incessantly by touting its Apps cloud suite and making fun of Microsoft's fragmented and weaker offerings, like Live@Edu and Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS).

Of course, customer swiping in this market remains a reality, but when BNSF Railway started evaluating options, including those from Google and IBM, Office 365 was able to protect Microsoft's turf.

"We're a big Microsoft shop, so Office 365 was a very good fit for us. It just made sense," says Jo-ann Olsovsky, CIO at BNSF Railway, a large freight railroad network in North America.

This week, the company expects to finish migrating its about 40,000 employees to Office 365's Exchange Online and Lync Online. At a later phase, it will switch its intranet and customer-facing portals to SharePoint Online and adopt SkyDrive Pro for cloud storage.

Like many companies, BNSF Railway decided to take email and collaboration to the cloud to reduce the time and effort its IT staff spent on maintaining the on-premises systems.

Because railway companies have such specific operations and needs, the company has had to build a lot of custom IT systems, and maintaining and improving those is more important than tussling with email and collaboration servers.

"Historically, it has been a challenge to do the maintenance ourselves," Olsovsky said.

Office 365 is also expected to bring other benefits, like having a significantly larger inbox capacity, and making email and collaboration capabilities more easily and broadly available for its staff since 90 percent of employees work remotely.

Olsovsky is also looking forward to Microsoft's continued integration of the Yammer enterprise social networking tool with SharePoint and with other of its products.

BNSF Railway employees started using Yammer last year on an ad-hoc basis, shortly before Microsoft acquired the company for US$1.2 billion, and the product is now being used successfully as a blogging platform at the company, she said.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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