The war to win over educational institutions for the cloud is getting heated. Productivity suite rivals Microsoft and Google are battling it out to see who can be the go-to provider for a cloud-based email platform for universities and colleges across the U.S. Google Apps, which currently has 8 million users, is slightly behind Microsoft’s 11 million users of Live@edu. But the race is still a close one considering that individual deployments can include hundreds of thousands of users.

Live@edu is a web-based productivity suite for students, staff, faculty and alumni, which includes E-mail and calendars with a 10GB inbox, 25 GB of additional file storage, document sharing, instant messaging, video chat, mobile e-mail, and Office Web Apps. Currently more than 10,000 schools in more than 130 countries have deployed Live@edu.

Today, Microsoft is announcing a number of new schools joining the platform including San Francisco State University; California State Polytechnic University, Pomona; and State Center Community College District as well as University of Montana, Northern Kentucky University the College of DuPage, and Washington University in St. Louis and Aston University in the United Kingdom.

In some new deployments, Microsoft is actively targeting the differences in offerings from Google Apps. For example, Microsoft said that Northern Kentucky University selected Live@edu after evaluating Google Apps Education Edition and deciding Live@edu is better for the school’s needs in terms of storage.

There are a couple of reasons why the educational space is so attractive for both Microsoft and Google. Not only do educational institutions represent a huge market for both cloud-based productivity platforms, but schools and colleges are where many people get trained, start relying on, and form brand allegiances to productivity apps. The students at these schools are potential life-long users of Microsoft or Google’s products.

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