Google first to get FISMA certification for cloud apps

By Max Cacas
Reporter
Federal News Radio

If your federal agency is considering moving some, or all, of your IT infrastructure into the cloud, your first big vendor is knocking on the door.

Google today announced that it has received Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) certification and accreditation for its Google Apps suite of cloud computing services.

David Mihalchik, Business Development Executive with Google, says a full suite of office applications now made available under the brand Google Apps Premium will now be available to federal, state, and local municipal agencies under the brand ‘Google Apps for Government’, including:

  • Google Mail
  • Google Talk
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Docs

In addition, applications that allow users to create simple websites, share audio and video, and perform other common office functions, including collaboration, that will also be available in a secure computing environment.

The benefit, says Mihalchik, includes saving the cost of upgrading hardware and software, the ability to upgrade applications as technology improves, and allowing agencies to focus on their mission, and not on their IT infrastructure.

Mihalchik says Google worked with the General Services Administration to insure that Google Apps conformed with all FISMA security protocols.

In addition, Mihalchik says Google Apps for government has made several additional accommodations not dictated by FISMA to address concerns about data security.

“For Gmail and Calendar data, under Google Apps for Government, this data is stored only stored (on servers) located in the continental United States. It is stored on segregated servers separated from non-government customers using Google’s Data Centers.” He adds that in the near future, government data from other applications in the Google apps suites will be stored on servers based domestically.

Mihalchik says getting FISMA certification required a nearly year-long top-to-bottom security review of Google Apps, with a process that resulted in a report that ran nearly 1500-pages.

He characterized the process as “extremely thorough,” and emphasizes that it’s the same process that all federal agency IT systems must meet to reach FISMA’s moderate level of security.

Mihalchik says there are at least a dozen federal agencies right now that are evaluating Google Apps for Government as they consider migrating to a cloud computing environment.

One federal agency – the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkley, California – was one of the first to fully transition to Google Apps for Government.

Dr. Rosario Alvarez, chief information officer for Berkley Labs, says, “Yes, I guess we were the ‘guinea pigs’. We are one of the first federal entities deploying Google Apps for our entire user base.” The lab employs a 4,000 employees, many of whom perform unclassified scientific research.

Alvarez, who is temporarily assigned to DOE headquarters here in Washington as a Senior IT advisor to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, is helping to run DOE’s pilot program to evaluate the use of Google Apps for Government in other parts of the agency.

“They’re looking at the same things we were looking at when we looked at Google Apps at Berkley,” she told reporters at a briefing at Google’s Washington office today, so they’re leveraging our experience, and our lessons learned from our deployment.” Alvarez says she expects DOE to make a decision on whether or not to go with Google’s cloud applications in a few months,.

Though Google officials were hesitant to discuss their expectations for sales from cloud computing services to the federal government, at least one area business-to-government consulting firm is already projecting a healthy, substantial market.

Denise Peterson, manager for industry analysis with INPUT in Reston, Virginia, estimates that the market for cloud computing services to the federal government (including “software-as-a-service”), will range between “$420 million in fiscal year 2010 to $1.4 billion in fiscal year 2015.”

Peterson also says that the growth rate for the market in cloud computing services to the government is also expected to grow as much as 27 % over the five year period, compared with only a 5-5 ½ percent growth rate for the rest of the Federal IT market during the same time period.

Hear Mihalchik discuss security in the cloud on the DorobekInsider on Monday afternoon.

Learn more about cloud computing in the federal space at the Fed Cloud Blog.

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