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USDA Services Moving To the Microsoft Cloud 146

JoltinJoe77 writes "Not to be outdone by Google, who recently announced an e-mail deal with the GSA, Microsoft is pressing forward with a migration of its own. 'The US Department of Agriculture is ready to go live with Microsoft's cloud services. In the next four weeks, the agency will move 120,000 users to Microsoft Online services, including e-mail, Web conferencing, document collaboration, and instant messaging.'"
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USDA Services Moving To the Microsoft Cloud

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  • Obligatory (Score:5, Funny)

    by The Clockwork Troll ( 655321 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @07:57PM (#34495228) Journal

    Farm services server farm?

  • by base3 ( 539820 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @08:04PM (#34495294)
    SInce the USDA's services are going to be delivered from a "separate, secure facility," this doesn't seem so much about the cloud as just a standard outsourcing arrangement.
    • by jernejk ( 984031 )

      Exactly. This is - interestingly - aligned with Oracle's "private cloud" vision.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Really? Christ.

        Microsoft Corp. Cloud Services! brought to you in association with Danger, Inc. For industry-leading uptime and security.

        • by Anonymous Coward


        • My first thought is: how long until we see USDA-leaks. And that might not be a bad thing.

          • by Thing 1 ( 178996 )

            how long until we see USDA-leaks.

            The meat says USDA and the packaging always leaks. Perhaps I use wrong butcher?

        • by hobo sapiens ( 893427 ) <TEA minus caffeine> on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @08:36PM (#34495582) Journal

          Microsoft cloud services will be just as awesome as Sharepoint!


        • Relax. The USDA doesn't do a whole bunch of mission critical crap anyways.

      • by Junta ( 36770 )

        Replace "Oracle's" with "everyone's" and you are there.

    • by Anachragnome ( 1008495 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @08:31PM (#34495548)

      From the article:

      ""The USDA requires Microsoft to provide offline access which which we do view as a basic not something vendors can expect somewhere down the line," Rizzo wrote, a dig at Google."

      So, the tax-payer is basically paying Microsoft to run a server-farm, access to it both offline and online and software to utilize it. How is this different then the previous arrangement, besides them providing the server farm??

      Microsoft will have access to all of the data stored. "But wait!", you might say, "They already have that." The difference here is that now we are GIVING it to them. The data sets that the USDA have on hand are more then just farm reports--they include everything from mortgage arrangements(like my own) to the inner workings of arrangements with companies like Monsanto and ConAgra. Personally, I think such data should be public information but I do not think that any corporation should be privy to such information ALONE.

      Do YOU trust Microsoft to stay away from all that shiny information? I don't.

      • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
        The difference here is that now we are GIVING it to them.
        and renting the US govs data back 24/7 with every linked core getting milked for $ as it connects.
        The other interesting point will be all your farm data will now be less private, great for data mining and sharing in bulk by *any* another arm of the US gov.
      • by drsmithy ( 35869 )

        Do YOU trust Microsoft to stay away from all that shiny information? I don't.

        I struggle to see any manager looking at the cost/benefit of illegally accessing such information and coming away thinking "go for it".

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I work for the USDA's Farm Service Agency in their database office and I can tell you that the program data that is collected is NOT part of this deal. There are no plans that I know of to move our databases off of our current SAN and to one managed by Microsoft. From TFA, it appears that this is limited to email and communication services, not database storage.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Wait a minute. I'm a manager, and I've been reading a lot of case studies and watching a lot of webcasts about The Cloud. Based on all of this glorious marketing literature, I, as a manager, have absolutely no reason to doubt the safety of any data put in The Cloud.

      The case studies all use words like "secure", "MD5", "RSS feeds" and "encryption" to describe the security of The Cloud. I don't know about you, but that sounds damn secure to me! Some Clouds even use SSL and HTTP. That's rock solid in my book.


  • The Cloud (Score:4, Funny)

    by pete6677 ( 681676 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @08:04PM (#34495296)

    The cloud will solve all of our problems.

    • by c0lo ( 1497653 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @08:23PM (#34495486)

      The cloud will solve all of our problems.

      Including the State Dept. ones: in 5 years time Wikileaks will go out of business - the documents will be leaking directly from the source.

      • by jon3k ( 691256 )
        Yeah I'm sure a bunch of state employees can run a datacenter more securely than microsoft. I hate microsoft as much as the next slashdot poster but have you ever met a state government employee? i'd rather have the security of my data in the hands of a middle school class.
        • by c0lo ( 1497653 )

          I hate microsoft as much as the next slashdot poster but have you ever met a state government employee?

          Yes, I have actually met. If you speak of desk-chained ones, you are right. If you speak of the back-office guys, you are right most-of-the-time only. Granted: security is like a chain - strenght given by the weakest link (thus, it can be that all guys except one be brilliant in security matters and still have the chain broken).

          On the other side: the motivation of a govt employee stays also in the fact that his very position (and possibly liberty) is at risk if data is lost/leaked (and most of the govt emp

          • by Eskarel ( 565631 )


            Getting sacked from government service takes either malice, or extreme incompetence, especially if you don't need a security clearance. You only have to look at the whole Wikileaks fiasco. The bugger who took the info is certainly getting put through the ringer, but I haven't heard that anyone got sacked for setting up the security measures which allowed him to take it.

            • by c0lo ( 1497653 )


              Getting sacked from government service takes either malice, or extreme incompetence, especially if you don't need a security clearance.

              Proving that the govt employees are smart just enough not to take risks.

              Would you bet the same for a MS employee? Potentialy on a H-1B visa? Or smart enough to cover the tracks and sell the information siphoned [] from the cloud, without the blows-and-whistles (allegedly) Manning did?

              • Nice!

                And nice telephone number too: (425) 722-1299.
                Handy for reporting such serious business as "Microsoft lottery" e-mail scams and similar items.

    • Another step back to the 50s. Soon there will be just one central computer for every major city, and everyone connected to it. Just like Science Fiction predicted 60 years ago.

  • Time to start growing my own food to be safe.

  • for me to do a Symantec virus check on the whole MS cloud! This could take a while...

    Seriously, good luck with all that migrationess! Irate users are quite quick to point out your failurings. I'll say a quick prayer for your users:

    O God, ease our suffering in this, our moment of great dispair. Yea, admit these kind and decent users into thy arms of thine heavenly area, up there. And Moab, he lay us upon the band of the Canaanites, and yea, though the Hindus speak of karma, I implore you: give them a brea

    • Actually, these are USDA users, most of them probably can not tell the difference between a computer and an etch-a-sketch. The ones that can tell the difference are probably thrilled. The alternative is to have government employees running the data center. Microsoft is a huge step up.

  • Poor employees... Lost in MS's cloud for eternity...

    • by c0lo ( 1497653 )

      Poor employees... Lost in MS's cloud for eternity...

      From the "Love the bureaucrats" dept...

      That is a real progress: now they can pin-point in which cloud they are lost... in contrast with the current situation in which they are "Just lost in the clouds"

  • by SilverHatHacker ( 1381259 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @08:11PM (#34495376)
    Is this the same cloud that now magically includes Photoshop and VNC/Remote Desktop like in the Windows Live commercials? If so, can I look forward to cloud-enabled potatoes at the grocery store in the near future?
  • watch what they can do to your food supply.
    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      and loss of phone data and your games rentals year after costly year.
      Why would any one risk MS?
  • by Paska ( 801395 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @08:15PM (#34495410) Homepage

    The University of Canberra, Australia I am currently attending has in the last several months moved to Microsoft cloud services for e-mail, and calendaring and it's a bit of a joke.

    Being friendly with the I.T. department it's clear that the motivation was purely monetary related.

    As from a usability standpoint, students hate it. Junk filtering is a complete joke and is a common occurrence for student to teacher emails to not be delivered.

    Forwarding simply does not work as advertised, if you have a "Redirect to" and then "Delete" rule one-after the other it's common for the rules to 'switch' around and for the delete to happen first.

    The services are constantly down for urgent maintenance, slow and buggy in anything but Firefox (some features completely missing, like being able to create mail rules)/Internet Explorer.

    It's a big joke, and I can guarantee you that the USDA decision to move to these services would have come from the top ranks and I.T. made to keep their mouths shut regarding the decision, just like my University.

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      They are making "big" moves all over Australia from edu to health.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You would be completely wrong in that regard, as the sub-agency that I work for (which is, indeed, shifting from Domino to Exchange along with the rest of the department) settled on the MS BPOS services after looking at the problem from a lot of different angles. Inasmuch as a public university often does have pseudo-governmental oversight in the form of their state legislature's laws, your experiences at your university do not in any way bear a resemblance to what the Dept of Ag is attempting to do. Ther

      • You guys could probably hire some more full time employees if you'd just fire some of the worthless ones. But I'm sure government unions prevent any of that from taking place. That and the fact that government never goes through a recession with the rest of the country, so you don't have to make the really deep cuts that would force you to be more efficient. Even a 1 billion dollar cut is nothing compared to the proportional cuts and restructiong going on in much of the private sector these last few years.


    • by PJ6 ( 1151747 )
      I've been arguing with customers for years that moving thick clients to web applications almost always makes deep, unacceptable sacrifices to basic usability, but everyone's all "web 2.0" this and "cloud" that. Look at how amazing these JavaScript frameworks are. We can do anything a thick client can do. Oh, really? Pfff. Not from where I'm looking. Forget the users, I guess.
    • But apart from all that, is it OK?

    • Yup. There's also a lot of administrative tasks you simply can't do--the inability to give one user full access to another user's mailbox being a glaring example. Apptix, though slower and clunkier, is a much more complete solution for hosted Exchange/Sharepoint.
    • by ejdmoo ( 193585 )

      About inbox rules:

      They should never ever switch order. If you can reproduce this reliably, let me know and I'll file a bug. However, by default, inbox rules are created with an additional predicate of "stop processing more rules." This keeps more than one rule from processing any single message (*normally* this is a good thing).

      If you want multiple rules to process in order, then make sure "stop processing more rules" is not checked on those rules.

      Also, I just tested this running Firefox only on my test Ou

  • The 'to the cloud' commercials annoy me. But the one in particular where the traveling couple gets delayed and RDPs to their specific home computer and watches a local recording remotely goes to show how the 'cloud' word is completely meaningless.

    Ranks down there with the AT&T commercial that says 'the original name for the internet was the world wide web'. ARRGGHHHH.

    • The 'to the cloud' commercials annoy me.

      Wrong cloud.

      Look, those misleading commercials piss me off too, but I've found a mitigation technique.

      Every time you hear: "To The Cloud!" Just imagine the camera zooms out to reveal a city wide flash of brightness, followed by a boiling mushroom shaped cloud, and a few seconds later, the sonic shock wave.

  • I guess now we know which government agency is going to have the next big document release on WikiLeaks...
    • by guyminuslife ( 1349809 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @10:05PM (#34496236)

      Wikileaks Targets USDA
      New York Times Staff Writer

      Fresh off the release of thousands of private State Department diplomatic cables, Wikileaks has announced that it has obtained over 35,000 confidential records from the US Department of Agriculture. According to spokesman Julian Assange, Wikileaks has been reviewing the documents for the past several months, and intends to release them on Sunday, following the Superbowl halftime commercial break. Assange, who has recently battled charges of sexual assault in Sweden, pedophilia in Britain, adultery in Saudi Arabia, male prostitution in Sri Lanka, public masturbation in Mozambique, and felony jaywalking in Turkmenistan, claims that these new leaks are "among the most important we've ever released."

      The New York Times received advance copies of the leaked documents from a third party. From a preliminary review of the documents, here are some highlights:

      * In November of 2009, a USDA investigator discovered that despite advertising claims, the ingredients of Snapple's chilled tea beverages were not, in fact, "the best stuff on Earth." The USDA pressured Snapple to improve the quality of its ingredients,

      * Investigators discovered in June 2010 that a cattle ranch in Chugwater, Wyoming did not have any signs of mad cow disease, despite neighbors' claims that, "Ol' Bill cows make crazy, crazy good barbeque."

      * In the minutes from private discussions, Secretary of Agricultre Tom Vilsack is on the record as saying, "Man, that Lindsay Lohan is too skinny. Way too skinny. She's drinking slim milk, she should be dirnking 2%." Key officials alleged that the white "mustache" below Ms. Lohan's nose was not, in fact, milk.

      Although the source for the leak is not known, analysts suspect that Wikileaks obtained the documents when a team of hackers, operating out of a suburban basement filled with toy miniatures and Dungeons and Dragons rulebooks, was able to break into the USDA's cloud hosting service. The service, which is maintained by Microsoft, is reported to have suffered from a fatal security vulnerability when all of its servers simultaneously crashed with a "blue screen of death."

      The government has already issued a release to all federal employees stating that, "these documents are not to be read during work hours" and that they remain confidential, despite the fact that they are no longer confidential.

      The Justice Department would not make any official statements on the new leak, claiming that it is "part of an ongoing federal investigation that we're serious about, no, really, we're not kidding around, we're actually serious, please stop laughing." However, a source from within the Justice Department, who spoke under condition of anonymity, said that, "We will [expletive] murder Julian Assange. We will slice his [expletive] neck open and drink his blood to give us power over our enemies. Then we're gonna drag his corpse into the office, and beat it with out [expletives] like a pinata, and [expletive] on it. Whoever [expletives] last has to buy a round of drinks for the rest of the guys."

      Said Assange, "With this release, we come ever closer to overthrowing the despotic American government and its unjust, tyrannical, wicked form of mixed capitalism and representative democracy. The people shall rise up against the machine, and at last seize the means of production! The revolution is nigh, dear comrades, for victory will come to those who spread Truth to the masses! Death to America! Death to Smoochy! AI-YEEE!!!"

      • The service, which is maintained by Microsoft, is reported to have suffered from a fatal security vulnerability when all of its servers simultaneously crashed with a "blue screen of death."

        It is now called the azure screen of death, didn't you get the memo ?

        • I've been staying away from 4th edition, so we're going by 3.5 edition nomenclature....erm....sorry my mom's calling me.....brb to overthrow USA.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @08:21PM (#34495460)

    A very large company was told to use Microsoft's Azure Cloud this after a few high-up decision makers had a game of golf with some Microsoft people. Obviously, a computer server is just a computer server and since MS has some of those, it will work.


    60,000+ servers inside that company are UNIX (Solaris, HP-UX, AIX, Linux, etc) and those programs don't run under Windows-whatever-the-name-is-this-year. When the technical architecture team got to Redmond and asked about that, the Microsoft tech guys agreed - there was no way to accomplish what was in their contract.

    People that make technical decisions over golf probably shouldn't be allowed to make any decisions at all. I've seen it with other decisions at the company too. BEA was very happy after a golf game a few years ago.

    BTW, the Microsoft "cloud" deployment was canned completely (not just scaled back to Windows-Servers-only). I hope that S-VP was sacked too.

    • by afidel ( 530433 )
      And blacklisted as well. I thank my lucky stars that our SVP of IT is just a gadget freak and willing to do cutting edge rather than an idiot like in your example. He hates vendors and actually listens to his technical people when they bring up legitimate technical concerns.
      • ...our SVP of IT is just a gadget freak and willing to do cutting edge rather than an idiot like in your example. He hates vendors and actually listens to his technical people when they bring up legitimate technical concerns.

        Care to tell those of us looking for work what company you work for?

        • by guruevi ( 827432 )

          You can very quickly find out. When you go on an interview and all they have is Windows Server, Sharepoint and Exchange and all they talk about is this years buzzword (cloud, outsourcing) most likely you got an idiot CIO/IT Manager. The organization gets less points for using TekSystems, PeopleSoft, SAP or related companies or if they keep contractors around for more than 3 months.

  • Concerned... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rs1n ( 1867908 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @08:22PM (#34495468)

    I am a bit concerned that what appears to be an entire agency moving its operations toward complete dependency on a single commercial entity. It doesn't matter if the USDA were to use Google's cloud, or anyone else's cloud. What happens when said cloud "runs out of steam" so to speak -- meaning if there are problems with the cloud itself, you've essentially got an entire agency dead in the water. At least with the current setup, there are natural stop-gaps that prevent complete technical disasters. The operations of one department theoretically would not shut down the entire agency.

    There is a lot of short-sightedness in thinking that the short-term savings on IT costs will outweigh the cost of recovering from even one day of said cloud being inaccessible. Of course, I write this with absolutely no consideration for any redundancy systems that are built into the cloud. But what good is the redundancy when the cloud becomes the target of a massive attack. Who/what do you rely on so as to continue your daily operations?

    Has the government really been sold on The Emperor's New Cloud []

    • by afidel ( 530433 )
      It's hosted Exchange with the enterprise addons, it's not like their file and backoffice operations are moving into the cloud (Azure). The only critical thing that would possibly go down during an attack is email and that can be brought down by an attack no matter where it's hosted because by definition it must be open to the Internet writ large. We looked at it very seriously but decided to go in house due to the large number of custom blackberry apps we have that provide inside the firewall access to corp
    • "I am a bit concerned that what appears to be an entire agency moving its operations toward complete dependency on a single commercial entity."

      The point is that they probably *already* are completly dependent on a single commercial entity. Other poster said USDA is basically a Microsoft shop to a point they can't realistically go away from it (wonderful Microsoft lock-in) much less in these recession years. So going to Microsoft's cloud just makes sense: it will be cheaper and it will probably go a bit be

  • I can't see any webmail solution being rich enough to replace Outlook. For example, Cached Exchange Mode (i.e. offline mode that actually works like it should) is extremely useful, and I can't see how webmail could provide that.
    • by scarpa ( 105251 )

      Cloud in this case appears to mean "Microsoft hosted datacenter".

      RPC-over-HTTP has been around for awhile now and should work fine with this 'cloud' service. They didn't seem to imply the Office apps were going cloud, just server side.

    • by dweinst ( 218284 )

      Nope, it doesn't. MS' email in the cloud is hosted Exchange - end users get their choice of Outlook or OWA (webmail).

      • Nope, it doesn't. MS' email in the cloud is hosted Exchange

        In that case I wouldn't mind, so long as bandwidth to the so-called cloud is sufficient.

      • Gotta be careful there. Microsoft makes a price distinction between their offerings for deskless or office worker licenses - one of the differences being the ability to connect your outlook.

  • The USDA hasn't made a single wise or logical decision on their own in many years, so why should they start to now?
  • There's not much more to say on the topic. Though low bid doesn't imply low TOC. Or would that be TOL (total cost of leasing)?

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      total cost of leasing with a new active per core/seat/head count track is the key.
      MS will roll in and demand a nice realtime usage count, no more big site deals, the cash flows out 24/7.
      The front fee is low, the backend, long term cost is a real MS tax now :)
  • MongoDB on Azure (Score:5, Interesting)

    by GWBasic ( 900357 ) <slashdot AT andrewrondeau DOT com> on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:41PM (#34496056) Homepage

    Last week I watched a Microsoft Rep demonstrate MongoDB on Azure. He didn't even configure the database with enough space to store a single document. (MongoDB pre-allocates large blocks of disk space to avoid fragmentation.)

    It seems like they're genuinely trying to make cloud services easier to to set up and administer; but they're doing a bad job of making it simple to understand. For example, I know that a VM at Rackspace costs $xx a month and does whatever I want it to do. In contrast, even though Azure has services that sound nice; the system itself is so difficult to understand that I don't know what I need to buy or how much it'll cost me.

    • Tricky licensing is Microsoft's forte. Adding up the costs is always more difficult if Microsoft software is involved.

  • How exactly are they doing this without FISMA certification? Something sounds fishy

  • yea, because when you need absolute protection for your data, go with the one who has to patch security flaws every other day. And to was probably the cheapest bidder.
  • by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @11:48PM (#34496786)

    The biggest question this article raises in my mind is.... why does the USDA need 120,000 employees? There are only around 960,000 [] farmers in the USA - is it really necessary to have 1 USDA employee for every 9 farmers?

    • is it really necessary to have 1 USDA employee for every 9 farmers?

      That's just the tip of the iceberg, the amount of waste and incompetence in the United States Federal Government is truly a sight to behold. In fact, if people knew how poorly the feds ran things they would be hopping mad. Why, they might even start demanding spending cuts, tax breaks and smaller government...oh wait.

    • by mAriuZ ( 264339 )

      They need it to reboot the microsoft cloud farm servers and to reinstall them (one employee per server)

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      USDA does a wide variety of stuff related to agriculture. For example, at the agency I work for, our job is to keep invasive pest & disease species out of the US..

  • Pretty soon US crops will be destroyed by hordes of zombies and viruses and millions of starving Americans will flee to Mexico...
  • How are they planning to 'Beef' up security on the cloud?

  • At least, with the Cloud, Mr Beeks does not need to go places any more to get those "stupid old crop reports" [] from the department of Agriculture ...
  • Umm, given the security pedigree of Microsoft I assume this deal was struck by a Wikileaks supporter?

    Just curious :-)

I've got a bad feeling about this.