The deployment is not only one of the largest in the world, but also one of the fastest, Microsoft says.

The deployment is not only one of the largest in the world, but also one of the fastest, Microsoft says.

In what state officials are calling one of the largest and fastest-ever deployments of cloud computing in the world, the Kentucky Department of Education has chosen Microsoft’s Live@edu service to bring 21st-century communication and collaboration tools to more than 700,000 students, faculty, and staff statewide.

The cloud-based service, in which the software is hosted on Microsoft’s servers and delivered to users via the internet, already has been rolled out to more than half a million users, officials said—and they expect the project will save them about $6.3 million in operating costs over four years by not having to install or maintain the software themselves.

Live@edu is a no-cost suite of online software, based on familiar Microsoft communication and productivity tools. With Live@edu, students and educators can access their files and information in the cloud virtually anytime, anywhere, through popular web browsers and from any internet-connected PC or mobile phone, Microsoft says.

“With Live@edu, all school districts in Kentucky have access to the same powerful Microsoft applications and Web 2.0 technologies. That means we can close the technology gap between rich and poor districts and level the playing field for students, regardless of where they live,” said Terry Holliday, Kentucky’s commissioner of education. “Because they are ‘in the cloud,’ Kentucky schools will always stay up-to-date with the latest innovations. And the features are far greater than anything we could have afforded to offer to every school in Kentucky.”

The deployment is not only one of the largest in the world, but also one of the fastest, Microsoft says. The state reportedly moved more than half a million people from some 180 distributed Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 on-site servers to Live@edu during a single weekend. The rapid migration helped minimize disruption and gave users faster access to new technologies, such as Microsoft Exchange Server 2010, which powers Live@edu’s cloud-based eMail service.

“Historically, it would have required months and potentially years to migrate hundreds of thousands of people to a new solution,” said Chuck Austin of the Kentucky Department of Education’s Office of Education Technology.

“With Microsoft’s cloud technology and a collaborative focus between Microsoft and the Kentucky Department of Education on the planning aspects, we were able to dramatically reduce the implementation cycle and migrate everyone in a single weekend.”

Kentucky has become the second U.S. state in just the last six weeks to move to a statewide cloud-based model for school communication and collaboration. In late April, Oregon announced that its 540,000 public school students would be the first to use Google Apps for Education in K-12 schools statewide, a move that Oregon officials said would save the state about $1.5 million in IT costs.

Kentucky’s announcement also ratchets up the rivalry between Microsoft and Google, both of which are competing to attract education users of their web-based eMail and productivity software.