Google's Government Deal Shows Cloud Promise, Challenges

"Governments are dying to make transition to the cloud," says Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -- This week's rollout of Google Apps for Government is a major milestone in the search giant's efforts to win more customers for its cloud apps and to answer the security concerns of potential enterprise customers.

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) said it has become first cloud computing application suite provider to receive Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) certification and accreditation from the U.S. government, essentially giving government agencies and departments a clear path to adopt the Google suite. Google had to document hundreds of security and other controls to win FISMA certification.

"From a security posture, we already met or exceeded FISMA, so a lot of the work was around documentation," Matthew Glotzbach, product management director of Google's enterprise software, told at a media event here.

The timing of the announcement comes as Google had to address reports its biggest government deal with the City of Los Angeles has hit some snags. Google officials admitted the rollout has been delayed a bit, but said the county is still on track to realize the $5.5 million in savings over the five years of the contract. Google also said 10,000 of the expected 30,000 users are already actively using the Google suite.

"We've been working with them and their evolving requirements and we're excited they have over 10,000 users," said Glotzbach. One of the sticking points has to do with background checks of Google employees that have access to the servers that store the county's information. Glotzbach said the company has always done background checks and the issue is being resolved.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt briefly joined the Q&A portion of the media event here at Google's headquarters to underscore Google's commitment to pursuing commercial enterprise contracts as well as government ones.

"Governments are all trapped in architecture that is 15 to 20 years old. The good news is that their support costs are predictable," he joked, referring to the large IT service contracts typically saddled on governments.

"The funny thing from my perspective is that [government] is dying to make this transition to the cloud," he added. But Schmidt said the lack of things like FISMA certification has kept Google and others from making faster inroads.

"We have a hot product and we're knocking down barriers to adoption and the demand is enormous," he added. Google said over 100 federal agencies already use at least one Google enterprise service and the FISMA certification will lead to broader adoption.

The security of Google's cloud-based applications became a high profile issue earlier this year when the company announced it had been subject to repeated attacks by entities operating out of China.

But Schmidt said Google Apps weren't breached and the incident "had nothing to do with this stuff," including the FISMA certification. As a separate matter, Schmidt said the attack had been "heavily discussed with the federal government. They know everything."

While it wasn't required, Google said it's now physically separating the servers dedicated to government users at the federal as well as city and state levels. Glotzbach said government is a unique use case and Google has no plans to offer the same level of separation to commercial customers.

"As you start to do one-offs, you lose the flexibility the scalability of our systems offer," he said. "In the commercial sector there isn't the same universally agreed to certifications."

We don't believe in private clouds

David Girouard, president of Google's enterprise division, said separating out different customers would be counter to Google's cloud vision. "It would be like a private cloud and we don't believe in the private cloud because it's a misnomer," he said. "It's more of the same dedicated installation that's extraordinarily expensive as you have to build to prepare for peak loads."

In the case of Google Apps for Government, Google provides the same fail-over with redundant data centers in different parts of the country, as it does for Google Apps in general. One difference in the case of Google Apps for Government is that the servers will be limited to Google data centers in the U.S. where commercial customers are likely to be spread among data centers in the U.S. as well as other countries.

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

Tags: cloud computing, Google Apps, Cloud network, government IT, Eric Schmidt

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