Microsoft's global foundation services organization has passed the Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002 (FISMA) Authorization to Operate (ATO) for the company's cloud infrastructure, verifying it as a trustworthy foundation for the services that run on it, according to a blog post by Mark Estberg, senior director of risk and compliance for the company's global foundation services.
Those services include Exchange Online, a hosted version of Microsoft's email service, and SharePoint Online, a hosted version of its collaboration suite. Both services also currently are in the FISMA certification and accreditation process, Estberg said.
FISMA is a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) security standard for IT products and solutions deployed in the federal government. Security is a key concern for government agencies, and any products deployed in agency IT infrastructures must show a certain level of security to even be considered an option in the federal acquisition process.
Microsoft, like rivals Google and Amazon Web Services, is eager to take advantage of the federal market, as agencies move more towards cloud computing to cut costs, consolidate data centers and streamline IT operations.
The government already has used Microsoft's cloud infrastructure for some solutions. NASA, for instance, used Microsoft's cloud infrastructure for its Be a Martian project, an educational website allowing students to view Mars imagery in an interactive environment.
Google and Microsoft, in particular, seem to be heading toward a duel in the federal space, particularly for their email and collaboration suites. Right now Google seems to have a slight edge, although FISMA compliance for Microsoft could change that.
The Government Services Agency (GSA) recently chose to move from an on-premises IBM Lotus solution to Google Apps for Government for cloud-based email.
The Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory also moved to Google Apps earlier this year; however, the lab doesn't fall under the same standards as other government agencies because it is not an official government property.
Meanwhile, another federal agency has come under legal fire from Google before it's even chosen which hosted e-mail and collaboration suite it will use. The Department of the Interior is in a lawsuit with the search giant, accused of unfairly favoring Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite even though a contract has not yet been awarded.
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