July 26, 2010 By Matt Williams
Photo: Randi Levin, chief technology officer, Los Angeles/Photo by Terence Brown
Google announced a new version of its popular Web-based e-mail and productivity suite on Monday, July 26, that's tailored for government customers and meets federal IT security benchmarks.
The new offering means Google's "government cloud" -- available to federal, state and local government agencies in the company's hosted environment -- is now operational. A year in the making, the government cloud will store the data of government customers that use Apps for Government on dedicated servers located in the continental U.S. At first, only Gmail and calendar will be housed in the government cloud; the suite's other parts will be added to the secure cloud soon, according to David Mihalchik, business development executive for Google.
The company believes Apps for Government -- a package that includes Gmail, calendar, documents, chat, video and other tools -- is the first suite of cloud computing applications to receive Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) -Moderate accreditation. The Barack Obama administration has urged cloud computing and hosted service providers to pursue FISMA compliance in order to bolster and standardize IT security across the government, and to assuage concerns about cloud computing's perceived security risks.
Mihalchik said that FISMA certification required the company to do a top-to-bottom review of nearly 200 security controls and submit 1,500 pages of documentation to the feds. Government agencies that have reviewed Apps for Government's security believe it meets or exceeds the controls in their existing systems, he said.
Google Apps customers include Orlando, Fla., which moved the city's 3,000 mailboxes to Gmail this year, as well as agencies in the District of Columbia, New Mexico and Colorado. The company's highest-profile customer, Los Angeles, is continuing to work with Google and system integrator CSC on an enterprisewide rollout of the hosted solution for all 30,000 city employees. L.A. was using Novell GroupWise for e-mail previously and the police department continues to use it.
Los Angeles Chief Technology Officer Randi Levin said in published reports over the weekend that the implementation has been more difficult and taken longer than anticipated. Levin told MarketWatch that Google had agreed to pay $135,000 in penalties because of a missed June 30 deadline for full implementation. Currently 10,000 L.A. employees are on Google Apps, but difficulties have cropped up in the police department's e-mail system, which must meet stringent California Department of Justice requirements.
A report this month from the LAPD complained that some users who were piloting Gmail were having issues with synchronizing e-mail from their old system. The police department said there were also concerns about the security of data encryption.
Those kinds of "speed bumps" are to be expected in a first-of-its kind government implementation, Mihalchik said. Google believes the L.A. project has been a success, he said. Many more governments remain interested in Google Apps, he added.
Apps for Government will cost the same as Google Apps Premier Edition: $50 per user per year.
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