WASHINGTON -- Google is taking what it sees as a major step forward in its efforts to drive cloud computing in the government, releasing on Monday a version of its hosted suite of applications that meets the primary federal IT security certification.
Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) touts the new edition of Google Apps, nearly a year in the making, as the first portfolio of cloud applications to have received certification under the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA).
"We see the FISMA certification in the federal government environment as really the green light for federal agencies to move forward with the adoption of cloud computing for Google Apps," Google Business Development Executive David Mihalchik said this morning in a meeting with reporters.
Last September, Federal CIO Vivek Kundra announced a broad initiative to embrace cloud computing across the federal government both as a means to cut costs and reduce the inefficiencies of redundant and underused IT deployments.
The kick-off of that campaign was accompanied by the launch of Apps.gov, an online storefront for vendors to showcase their cloud-based services for federal IT managers. Google co-founder Sergey Brin attended the event at NASA's Ames Research Center, and the company announced at the time its plans to develop a version of its popular cloud-based services that would meet the security requirements of the federal-government sector.
"I think this is indicative also of our commitment to the federal marketplace," Mike Bradshaw, director of Google's federal division, said of today's launch.
"We're excited about this announcement and the benefits that cloud computing can bring to this market. The president's budget has identified the adoption of cloud computing in the federal government as a way to more efficiently use the billions of dollars spent on IT annually," he added, noting that the government spends $450 million in electrical costs alone to run its servers and data centers.
The government version of Google Apps features the same pricing and services as the premier edition, including Gmail, the Docs productivity suite and the Talk instant-messaging application.
But proponents of modernizing the federal IT apparatus consistently cite security concerns as the biggest barrier to adoption of cloud computing across the agencies.
In addition to the 1,500 pages of documentation that accompanied Google's FISMA certification, the company is including extra security features to make its Apps suite more attractive to federal IT buyers at agencies with more stringent security requirements.
Within its data centers, Google will store government cloud accounts on dedicated servers that will be segregated from its equipment that houses consumer and business data. Google has also committed only to use servers located in the continental United States for government cloud accounts. Google stores the data of its premier edition commercial customers in servers in the United States and European Union.
Security, Mihalchik explained, was the guiding priority from the outset in developing Google Apps for Government.
"We set out to send a signal to government customers that the cloud is ready for government," he said. "Today we've done that with the FISMA certification, and also going beyond FISMA to meet some of the other specific security requirements of government customers."
Google has already won an array of government customers at the state and local levels, including the cities of Los Angeles and Orlando, Fla.
Mihalchik said that more than a dozen federal agencies are in various stages of trialing or deploying elements of Google apps. Several agencies, he said, are using Google's antispam and antivirus product to filter their e-mail.
Others are running pilot programs to evaluate the full suite of Google Apps in comparison with competitors' offerings. The Department of Energy, for instance, is currently trialing Google Apps and Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), according to Rosio Alvarez, CIO of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab who is currently on temporary assignment as senior IT advisor for Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
The Berkeley Lab has already adopted Google Apps for processes like e-mail, and Alvarez said this morning that the trial is intended to determine whether Google's or Microsoft's cloud offering will be a better fit for broader deployment across DoE.
Microsoft has been signing up its own litany of state and local government customers for its BPOS portfolio. In late February, Microsoft announced an edition of BPOS for federal customers, which includes Web-based versions of applications such as Exchange, SharePoint and Office Communications.
Like Google Apps for Government, Microsoft's BPOS Federal houses government data on segregated servers. At the time of the announcement, Microsoft said it expected to win FISMA certification within six months.
Reached for comment today, a spokesman for Microsoft said the company anticipates the General Services Administration to certify BPOS imminently, and noted that agencies across the federal government are already using its traditional Office, Exchange and SharePoint applications.
"Our messaging and collaboration BPOS offering already meets the most rigorous standards of any cloud service in market today," the spokesman told InternetNews.com in an e-mail. "We have been working closely with the GSA and expect to receive official FISMA authorization very soon."