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Why is Dark Cloud Hovering over Indian Skies?

By Rakesh Raman

Cloud computing may be still crawling on the ground in most advanced markets of the world. But it’s ready to fly in India, which is a technologically backward country. How?

Microsoft, which has been promoting its cloud services aggressively, says it has got All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) as its largest cloud customer.

AICTE is deploying Microsoft Live@edu over the next three months to more than 10,000 technical colleges and institutes throughout India.

The cloud deployment will expand students’ access to high-quality technical education and collaboration, claims Microsoft. The announcement was made today, April 12.

India, which is one of the weakest countries in technology adoption, lingered at a dismal 58th position in the world, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Digital economy rankings 2010 (called “Beyond e-readiness”). (Read: How to Use E-Governance to Deal with Corruption)

As the politicians and bureaucrats who are supposed to select technology and spread technology culture in the country are almost illiterate in the tech field, it’s very easy to hoodwink them. And most vendors have been doing this for decades. Hardware and software products are just dumped in Indian government offices without any meaningful use.

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Moreover, a couple of years ago, the government had taken a decision to adopt open-source systems for its various departments. But credit goes to Microsoft that with its “skilled sales paraphernalia,” it has repeatedly forced the Indian government to bend its own rules in favour of Microsoft and its proprietary products.

Going by Microsoft’s announcement of today, it has once again convinced government babus (colloquial term for unskilled government workers) in AICTE – which is under the Indian government’s ministry of human resource development – to go in for its cloud solutions.

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Most in the tech market know that cloud is in its infancy for any serious work. It can be used for trivial tasks such as basic email, personal data storage, etc. – nothing beyond that. But Microsoft is among the group of those companies that have been creating hype around cloud computing to entice corporate and government buyers.

Now, these tech vendors are even telling unfounded stories about cloud market’s potential to open floodgates of job opportunities for workers. (Read: After Microsoft, SAP Sings the Cloudy Jobs Song).

Among other hidden reasons (which need to be explored), it’s probable that AICTE has fallen prey to such job-related baits for its students.

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Live@edu is a hosted communication and collaboration service that offers email, Microsoft Office Web Apps, instant messaging and storage to AICTE’s more than 7 million students and nearly 500,000 faculty members, for a total reach of 7.5 million users — roughly double the size of the Los Angeles population — making AICTE Microsoft’s largest cloud customer ever, the company says.

Live@edu is the first step in AICTE’s deployment of Microsoft cloud computing for education. AICTE also plans to deploy Microsoft Office 365 for education when it becomes available later this year, providing access to Microsoft Exchange Online email and calendar, Microsoft SharePoint Online, Microsoft Lync Online and Microsoft Office Professional as the technical infrastructure to support member colleges and institutes.

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“Microsoft’s cloud platform will make for a truly progressive ecosystem and contribute to the country’s technical education by providing a better communication and collaboration platform for institutes and students,” said Dr. S. S. Mantha, chairman of AICTE, according to Microsoft.

Live@edu is a no-cost hosted platform for student communication and collaboration, providing services to the education market. Email and calendars with a 10GB inbox, 25GB of additional file storage, document sharing, instant messaging, video chat and mobile email are part of the feature set.

This deal will open a new entry point for Microsoft to sell its other products and services to the Indian government, which is hell-bent to waste taxpayers’ money without applying any thought. And there’s no accountability or return on investment (ROI) calculation for such expenditure.

By Rakesh Raman, the managing editor of RMN Digital.

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