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5/10/2011
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Feds Seek $2.5 Billion In Cloud Services

The General Services Administration is asking vendors to bid to supply cloud email, cloud office automation services, and cloud-based records management services.

Top 20 Government Cloud Service Providers
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Slideshow: Top 20 Government Cloud Service Providers
The federal government Monday issued a solicitation for cloud email, cloud office automation services (like word processing and spreadsheets), and cloud-based records management services that will be worth up to $2.5 billion over five years.

The solicitation accounts for wide variations in customer demand, as it seeks vendors for private cloud, government-specific cloud, and public cloud computing options, as well as an option that will meet the security demands of agencies doing business in a classified secret environment.

The federal government also expects the services to be used by states and localities as well as federal users. According to federal CIO Vivek Kundra, the General Services Administration (GSA) worked closely with state officials like Utah CIO Stephen Fletcher as it developed the solicitation in order to ensure that it would meet state needs as well as federal needs.

Despite its $2.5 billion contract ceiling, cost savings will be among the contract's biggest benefits. GSA has estimated that, based on an average cloud email cost of $14 per month per mailbox, taxpayers will save $1 million annually for every 7,500 federal email boxes that move to cloud-based services, or 44% as compared to existing on-premises email systems. "The government has a unique opportunity when it pools its purchasing power to drive the marketplace," Kundra said in an interview last week.

Kundra said at a White House event last month that 15 federal agencies have already identified 950,000 mailboxes across more than 100 email systems that eventually will move to the cloud, and that GSA's solicitation is an effort "to try to consolidate" those moves, but it's unclear what agencies, if any, have already tentatively signed on to the new solicitation. The solicitation is part of a broader administration push, known as "cloud first," which encourages agencies to move to cloud services.

The solicitation, which takes the form of a blanket purchase agreement under GSA's SmartBuy tech-centric procurement program, requires vendors to offer email, migration, and integration services, but it also seeks other services, including office automation and records management.

GSA is looking for email services that meet a number of specifics, including a minimum 5-GB mailbox size, mobile device and browser support, spam and virus filtering, remote provisioning, trouble ticketing and help-desk support, summary reporting on management stats, and 99.9% uptime. It also asks for instant messaging, calendaring, archiving, and e-discovery capabilities.

In terms of office automation, GSA is looking for a wide array of services, including word processing, spreadsheets, presentation services, wiki tools, document repositories, Web conferencing, video chat, unified communications suites, and fax and text messaging services.

Eventually, the services will be made available for purchase with a government credit card at GSA's Cloud Computing Storefront at Apps.gov, where GSA currently offers social media, Web analytics, and software-as-a-service tools, and will soon offer infrastructure as a service.

GSA had initially said it would release the email solicitation by the end of March, but the date slipped slightly. It's unclear just when these services will become available for government agencies, but the closing date for quotes is June 19, and interested vendors are required to submit all their questions by May 20.

While GSA looks to put its stamp on government email with this solicitation, it isn't, by far, the only cloud email game in town. The Department of Agriculture, the GSA, the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of the Interior are all in various stages of planning or migrating to cloud email on their own.

The email offering grows out of work beginning last summer by GSA's Federal Cloud Computing Initiative Email Working Group. That working group included members from a number of federal agencies, from the Department of Defense to the Environmental Protection Agency to the Department of the Treasury.

The email request is the first of what could be several like it. Last fall, Dave McClure, GSA's associate administrator for citizen services and innovative technologies, hinted that a request for geospatial services could be next, and Kundra last week said that certain financial services could also follow the email blanket purchase agreement.

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