Google, Microsoft and IBM have an important deadline coming up in their heated war for cloud computing contracts.
The General Services Administration July 30 invited software makers to submit their bids to become the federal agency’s e-mail and collaboration application provider. The deadline to submit bids is Sept. 30.
The GSA, which oversees government procurement and manages federal property in the United States, currently uses IBM’s Lotus Notes suite of e-mail and document applications for its 15,000 employees. Those apps reside locally on the GSA’s servers and its users’ computers.
The GSA, as part of the federal government’s plan to modernize its technology infrastructure, is seeking to move to the cloud computing model that is proving popular of late.
That means procuring applications that vendors such as Google, Microsoft and IBM provision over the Web from remote data centers.
Vendors host the data; users access the apps through Web browsers. Companies pay a baseline price of $3 to $5 per user, per month for cloud e-mail services from these three vendors.
Google, Microsoft and IBM all submitted their proposals, GSA Associate Administrator for Communications and Marketing Sahar Wali confirmed for eWEEK.
However, each company declined to talk in great detail about what they submitted to the GSA. No vendor wants to unduly cede competitive advantages rival at the proposal stage of the game by commenting specifically about their proposal.
IBM, the incumbent, said it submitted its Web-based IBM LotusLive iNotes software for the GSA’s consideration. Microsoft offered Business Productivity Online Suite, the company’s entry into cloud-based collaboration.
That company also declined to provide specifics, but did confirm its proposal covered e-mail and other collaboration apps.
Google put forth its Google Apps for Government solution, which is essentially the company’s enterprise suite of e-mail, document, spreadsheet and presentation apps.
Analyst Discusses GSA Cloud Computing Bid
Data generated from government employees using these apps is housed in a separate datacenter facility from consumer users of Google Apps, noted Matt Glotzbach, director of product management for Google Enterprise.
Google has another ace in the hole. The company attained the crucial Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) certification from the GSA in July.
Neither Microsoft nor IBM have achieved the FISMA certification yet. One would be tempted to think having FISMA gives Google the inside edge on its venerable competition. Not necessarily, said GSA’s Wali.
While FISMA accreditation is a statutory requirement in order for the GSA to use a vendor’s software, Wali said a GSA can pick any vendor that wants to work with the federal agency as a technology supplier.
The GSA will then work with that vendor to achieve FISMA certification. “But, obviously, it’s easier to start migration if they already have it,” Wali said.
Wali said the GSA hopes to have chosen a vendor and begun the move to the cloud by the end of year or in early 2011.
Forrester Research analyst Ted Schadler noted that securing FISMA is important, but the bigger issues is the challenge of moving 15,000 workers who have generated who knows how much data in an existing solution to another collaboration product and architecture.
“It takes a long time to get the program done,” said Schadler, who in August published a detailed report concerning cloud-based e-mail providers Google, Microsoft, Cisco and IBM.
“The issues for anybody in picking an e-mail platform have something to do with the expectation of the workforce. It can be hard to move a workforce from one solution to another.”
Especially when it’s a matter of going from the on-premise solution to the cloud, he added.
“Not every employee loves a Web-based email client and you don’t want to put something in front of employees they are not comfortable with. It could be a career-limiting move for a CIO.”
Schadler declined to say who out of those three vendors he felt had the advantage in winning the GSA’s hand, noting the cloud e-mail packages Google, Microsoft and IBM offer are similar enough in price and functionality to make them commodity solutions.
“There’s no one breakthrough product that no one else could match.”