The federal cloud: Another Microsoft vs. Google battleground

The ongoing race between Microsoft and Google in the cloud application space continued to heat up this week with Google's launch of Google Apps for Government, a head-to-head competitor of Microsoft's BPOS-F.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

The ongoing race between Microsoft and Google in the cloud application space continued to heat up this week.

On July 26, Google announced the launch of a government-focused version of Google Apps -- known as Google Apps for Government. Microsoft announced in February 2010 a government-focused version of its Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS). That collection of Microsoft-hosted business apps, known as BPOS Federal (BPOS-F), runs on a “separate, dedicated infrastructure in secured facilities,” not in the existing datacenters where Microsoft currently hosts BPOS.

By August 2010, BPOS-F is slated to meet a wide range of standards and certifications, including: International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 27001, Statement on Auditing Standards (SAS) 70 Type I and Type II, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) Title 21 CFR Part 11 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 140-2, and Trusted Internet Connections (TIC) compliance certification.

Missing from the BPOS-F check list, however, is FISMA, the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). FISMA specifies a "comprehensive framework to protect government information, operations and assets against natural or manmade threats." Google Apps for Government "is the first suite of cloud computing applications to receive Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) certification and accreditation from the U.S. government," according to a Google blog post yesterday.

FISMA certification and accreditation is confirmed by the General Services Administration -- which just so happens to be deciding upon a new e-mail system. The GSA has been evaluating both Microsoft's and Google's cloud-hosted options, according to a recent Wall Street Journal story. FISMA certification is required for that project, which covers 15,000 user e-mail accounts.

Microsoft isn't providing an exact date as to when it will offer FISMA certification for BPOS-F, but says it should be "very soon." The full statement from a Microsoft spokesperson:

“Our messaging and collaboration BPOS offering already meets the most rigorous standards of any cloud service in market today. We have been working closely with the GSA and expect to receive official FISMA authorization very soon. We take our responsibility seriously to deliver powerful and easy-to-use applications that meet the government’s rigorous security and privacy needs, and we are humbled by the fact that nearly every Federal agency and arm of DoD trusts Microsoft Office, Exchange and SharePoint today.”

As of February, the Softies said more than 500 U.S. state and local governments were using its Online Services (BPOS, various standalone Microsoft Online offerings, which include but are but not limited to BPOS.

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