It was only a matter of time before Microsoft followed Google in announcing a secure cloud collaboration suite targeted for U.S. federal government agencies, as my colleague Nick Kolakowski noted Feb. 24.
Business Productivity Online Suite Federal will include the customary hosted Microsoft Exchange Online, Microsoft SharePoint Online, Microsoft Office Communications Online and Microsoft Office Live Meeting the software giant has been offering for a couple years now in BPOS.
However, this Federal version boasts greater security, privacy and compliance to satisfy the stringent requirements of U.S. federal government agencies, related government contractors and others that require the utmost security.
Future capabilities and certifications for the Federal flavor of BPOS will include two-factor authentication, enhanced encryption and the achievement of Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) certification, which is table stakes for government IT, in the next six months. As Nick wrote:
"In addition to including the certifications and security features of BPOS, the federal version will be housed on dedicated infrastructure in secured facilities, and accessible only via biometric access controls by U.S. citizens who have undergone the necessary background checks to access the system. Theoretically, this brings the offering in line with the needs of agencies and contractors who require extremely high levels of security protocols and features."
If this sounds familiar it's because it's basically Microsoft's version of the government cloud Google pledged to offer in 2010.
Like the new BPOS Federal, Google's government cloud features Google Apps collaboration programs running a "dedicated parallel environment." This means data created in this cloud by federal, state and local government agencies will be hosted on separate servers within existing Google data centers in the U.S.
Google's enterprise guys have assured me that the company's FISMA certification is still going through the rigorous examination process. You would think Google, which announced its government cloud pledge last September, would beat Microsoft to the certification, but who knows?
From a purely historical standpoint, Google has less sturdy legs to stand on than Microsoft, which has hundreds of thousands of enterprise customers, including more than 500 million legacy Office seats.
Microsoft expects FISMA certification within the next six months. If Microsoft somehow gets FISMA certified before Google, I wouldn't be totally shocked, but I would be concerned for Google, whose Google Apps just celebrated its third birthday this week.
In the broader picture, the introduction of BPOS Federal means Microsoft and Google are officially gunning for some 300 million U.S. government users creating and sharing information on 10,000 IT systems.
Google Apps has more than 2 million businesses using it, while BPOS has more than 1 million paying seats. Naturally, Google and Microsoft would love to secure some fat government contracts to beef up those figures.