Much excitement a week or two back with the news that Airbus is moving its employees off Microsoft’s office suite and on to an office productivity offering from its arch-rival, Google. Airbus is a big organization, with some 130,000 workers. It’s also high profile – the defense, aeronautical and space industry is one that gets much attention. When the news broke, I was also pretty convinced that this was a major coup for Google and, conversely, a big blow for Redmond.

But sometimes things aren’t so simple, and clarification from Airbus subtly changes the narrative. It seems the defense, space and helicopter units of Airbus’ operations (so, essentially, all the sexy stuff) will retain their on-premises Microsoft tools because, according to the company, of the “legal and national security implications” of a move to the cloud and, by extension, G-Suite.

So let’s deconstruct that for a minute. The initial take was that Google gaining this customer was a huge loss for Microsoft, and shows just how transformational Google’s G-Suite is. In one fell swoop, it would seem that the narrative is now that “cloud is good, but your most critical stuff will still happen within Microsoft Office.”

OK – so it’s not quite as nuanced as that – Microsoft Office 365 is, after all, at least in part a cloud product. But here’s the rub: Google G-Suite is not cloud-first, it’s cloud-only. Microsoft Office (of the 365 or not flavor) gives organizations some options.

I’m not a defender for the cloud naysayers, and would not suggest that the cloud is dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. indeed, back in the early days of cloud computing, I was one of the earliest proponents of the approach. But what is accurate is that some organizations, and some workloads, have more complex needs that an all-cloud offering may not be able to cover.

So when Airbus CEO Tom Enders told his staff that he wanted a “clean break from the past,” he actually realized that the reality is different, and the past can’t be left behind in its entirety. Employees were told in a leaked document that:

The entire company will transition to G Suite. However, because G Suite is a cloud-based solution, there are legal and national security implications. Certain categories of military, export controlled and personal data are required, by law, to remain within either specific national boundaries or on Airbus premises.

So while G-Suite has what Airbus describes as “strong cybersecurity functionalities,” no classified data will actually reside in the Google tools. Of course, this is a point-in-time approach and Airbus is quick to advise that this situation will remain until such time as “regulation evolves.” But the narrative is clear – for sensitive data, Google doesn’t really cut it.

MyPOV

If I was sitting in Redmond in Microsoft’s PR department, I’d be chuckling right now. When the original Airbus news came in, I’m sure the people in charge of Office 365 winced as they were obliquely critiqued as the reader looked between the lines. With news that Airbus is actually going to stay Microsoft for its more important/sensitive data, the smile is on the other side of the face.

I’m sure Microsoft won’t say anything publicly – but they don’t need to. In one go Airbus has proven the value of the Microsoft approach of offering customers choice. Poetic justice, anyone?

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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