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From Ocean to Cloud: NOAA Goes Google Apps

The climate and weather agency joins a growing list of its federal government peers moving to cloud-based email and collaboration.

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National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration CIO Joe Klimavicz announced Thursday that NOAA plans to migrate 25,000 mailboxes to Google Apps for Government by the end of 2011, becoming the latest in a series of federal agencies to tap into the public cloud for email and collaboration.

NOAA, which heads up federal research on climate, weather, oceanography, and fisheries, will use the suite of applications to help drive collaboration across the agency's widely distributed workforce. Employees will be able to use not just Gmail, but also video chat, real-time document collaboration, and wider mobile email support than agency employees have currently.

In jumping into the cloud for email, NOAA joins a growing list of agencies that also includes the General Services Administration, the Department of Agriculture, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Other agencies, including the Department of Labor and the Department of the Interior, also are plotting cloud email moves. NOAA's switch also is in line with the Obama administration's aggressive push for agencies to move services to the cloud.

"Cloud computing has great value allowing us to ramp up quickly, avoid redundancy, and provide new services and capabilities to large groups of customers," Klimavicz said in a statement. "This system will allow [personnel] to share information and strengthen collaborative productivity."

NOAA released an RFP for cloud email and collaboration in January after determining that that email systems at NOAA were too fragmented and past end-of-life. The agency carried out two pilot projects in the spring.

"Every reason you've heard about to go into the cloud is a fact," Klimavicz said in a March interview with InformationWeek Government. "It's faster, it's easier, the technology is mature, and security can be addressed. I like the idea of reducing my commodity IT to a bill, and we'll be able to provide a better service at a reduced cost." The agency estimates cloud email will cost 50% less than an on-premises deployment.

NOAA won't be getting Google Apps directly from Google, but instead via a three-year, $11.5 million contract with a small government contractor, Earth Resources Technologies, who in turn will be working with Google, Unisys, and Tempus Nova, which specializes in migrating companies from legacy email systems to Google Apps. That's in line with other agencies like GSA that also are working with contractors.

Email isn't NOAA's first venture into hosted services. The agency uses hosted voice over IP from AT&T, a hosted emergency notification system from Everbridge, and a hosted Web server farm. Klimavicz also looks forward to a day when supercomputing--something NOAA does a lot of--can be carried out in the cloud. "High-performance computing in the cloud is kind of the ultimate," he said. "Cloud storage and services are easy, but actually computing without knowing what hardware it's running on isn't as easy."

In the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek Government: More than half of federal agencies will use cloud computing within 12 months, our new survey finds. Security, ROI, and management challenges await them. Download it now. (Free registration required.)

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