USDA ready to move e-mail to Microsoft cloud

The Agriculture Department would be the second major agency to announce it\'s taking critical functions to the commercial cloud.

The Agriculture Department is the second major agency in a week to move critical business functions to the cloud.

USDA today announced that is ready to move to Microsoft’s Enterprise Messaging Service (EMS), which includes e-mail, Web conferencing, document collaboration and instant messaging. The General Services Administration awarded Unisys a contract last week to move to the Google Apps for Government.

USDA awarded Dell a contract in May for Microsoft online services. Under the deal, Dell will move 120,000 USDA employees to the EMS system and out of 21 separate e-mail systems.

“Migrating an enterprise of USDA’s size and complexity from multiple environments, across multiple agencies, requires not only a trusted enterprise-ready solution, but also a partner that is able to work with us and navigate everything from archiving to authentication to mobile phone support,” said Chris Smith, chief information officer at USDA in a release. “USDA’s IT modernization will allow us to streamline our operations and help us use taxpayer dollars more efficiently. With a focused cloud roadmap, we saw a clear opportunity to help achieve our cost savings and consolidation goals and tap into the promise of the cloud.”

USDA expects to begin moving employees within the next month and has granted Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) authorization to operate (ATO) for the Microsoft cloud infrastructure.

USDA states that the move to the cloud will let employees collaborate within and across mission areas, see colleagues’ availability, choose the most appropriate medium to communicate in and streamline messaging through improved capabilities for mass communications.

The agency says the migration is the culmination of USDA’s effort to streamline agency messaging, reduce costs and improve efficiencies that build on existing infrastructure. It also will let USDA extend its on-premise software investments agreements to the cloud. The software-as-a-service deployment will include Microsoft Exchange Online for messaging and calendaring, Microsoft Office SharePoint Online for document collaboration, Microsoft Office Communications Online for instant messaging and Microsoft Office Live Meeting for Web conferencing.

“We know that government data is unlike any other data, which is why it’s essential that agencies know exactly where their information is being hosted,” said Curt Kolcun, vice president of Microsoft U.S. public sector, in a blog post. “We built BPOS-Federal specifically for government agencies that require the highest levels of security, including a guarantee that all data will be housed in a dedicated infrastructure, located and maintained within the United States, and accessed only by U.S. citizens that have undergone rigorous background checks.”

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