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First federal agency brings email to cloud, cuts costs in half

stacked servers By redjar via Flickr

The U.S. General Services Administration, which oversees the bulk of purchasing and acquisitions for the federal government, became the first federal agency to move its email systems completely into the cloud. In December 2010, IT company Unisys won the contract to move GSA’s 17,000 employee email accounts into the Google Apps for Government email client, and has finally finished the massive job.

Unisys claims the move should save the GSA about 50% over the infrastructure, maintenance and personnel costs of an in-house email system. The change is part of a federal effort to save around $3 billion over the next five years by shutting down 40 percent of the federal government’s costly data centers. Following the move, Unisys says it now has available its own Google Apps for Government-based system available to implementation at other agencies.

NextGov reports that the GSA is the first of around 15 agencies to make the move. Previously, the GSA used IBM’s Lotus Notes software. Unlike Google’s offering, Lotus Notes required users sign into the in-house network to access email, documents and chat clients. The switch to Google Apps for Government means employees can access the network anywhere and on any device, which will increase efficiency but makes one wonder just how happy GSA’s rank-and-file is about the switch.

Unisys officials told NextGov that the new system complies with federal security standards requiring two-step authentication for access, which usually include a password and an extra piece of identifying information. Interestingly, the authentication software came from SecureAuth, a rival to the much larger RSA SecurID enterprise that was hacked earlier this year.

Those other agencies include the USDA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Army. While the NOAA alsowent with Google Apps, the USDA picked Microsoft’s Business Online Productivity Suite and the Army went with a specialized private cloud from the Defense Information Systems Agency. The Army’s extra-sensitive needs aside, Google and Microsoft have pitched themselves into a rabid battle for who can pick up the most government contracts.

Photo via Flickr user Redjar.