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Feds' Cloud Email Deal Paves Way For Agencies

General Services Administration taps 17 vendors to provide cloud email from Google, Microsoft, IBM, and Zimbra to government agencies from federal to local levels.

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The General Services Administration (GSA) announced Thursday that it had awarded contracts to 17 tech companies and federal contractors to offer cloud-based email services from Google, Microsoft, IBM, and the open source Zimbra to federal, state, local, and tribal government agencies across the country.

The contracts should make it easier for government agencies to move to cloud-based email services, as GSA has long provided IT services to other agencies through contract vehicles like this one. The Obama administration has made moving to cloud computing a key priority with its Cloud First initiative, but agencies have thus far struggled to meet the Cloud First mandate to move three services to the cloud by this summer.

While email is the centerpiece of the deal, the contracts cover a number of other services as well, including Web conferencing, unified communications services, electronic records management, and migration and integration services. The services will be available in a number of different cloud modalities, including government community cloud, private cloud, and public cloud.

The awardees include government contractors and large tech companies. The list: Accenture, Autonomic Resources, CGI Federal, Ciracom, Computer Sciences Corp., Dell, DLT Solutions, General Dynamics, Harris Corp., IBM, Lockheed Martin, Onix Networking, Science Applications International, Smartronix, SRA International, Technosource Information Systems, and Unisys. Those vendors will all compete with one another for business from federal, state, local, and tribal agencies.

[ Learn why Google should stay out of the law enforcement business. See Google Joins Copyright Police Force. ]

Almost all of the awardees will work as integrators, meaning that they will work with partners that include Google, Microsoft, and Zimbra to provide cloud services to the different government agencies. The lone exception is IBM, which will provide its own cloud email services directly to federal agencies. Overall, the contracts could be worth up to $2.5 billion over five years.

GSA, citing a study by Forrester Research, estimates that agencies that move to the services could cut annual costs by as much as 50% and save as much as $1 million annually for every 7,500 email accounts migrated to cloud email.

This government-wide email procurement had been in the works for almost two years. In October 2010, GSA published an initial notice of its intent to issue a procurement for cloud email services. However, after unveiling the procurement in May 2011, the email offering was thereafter delayed by a litigation dispute over the procurement's terms.

Despite the delay, the procurement could accelerate growth in the ranks of agencies moving to the cloud for email. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, and a handful of the Department of Energy's national laboratories are some that have already moved to the public cloud, while the Departments of Commerce and Labor and the Department of Veterans Affairs are preparing for such moves.

GSA itself was the first major federal agency to migrate to cloud-based email on an agency-wide basis for its own employees by moving from IBM Lotus Notes to Google's Gmail beginning in December 2010 under a contract with Unisys. The agency has estimated savings of $15.2 million over five years because of the move.

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