Microsoft Collaboration Suite Gets Key FISMA Certification

Business Productivity Online Suite-Federal gets USDA security clearance, paving the way for the agency to move 120,000 employees to the cloud email service.
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Microsoft's Web-based collaboration suite has passed a key U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) security certification, paving the way for the department's email migration and allowing other agencies to consider the suite for their own cloud implementations.

Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS)-Federal has received an Authorization to Operate under the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) of 2002, a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) security standard for IT products and solutions. NIST creates and maintains technology standards for the federal government.

The USDA said in December it was moving 120,000 employees to BPOS as part of a migration from 21 separate email systems to the cloud. FISMA approval has given the green light for that move, according to a Microsoft blog post. Federal agencies are increasingly leveraging cloud computing as part of a "cloud first" mandate handed down from U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra in December.

Though individual federal agencies tend to put solutions through their own round of FISMA tests because they have different security needs, the suite's approval by the USDA does give BPOS-Federal some credibility with other agencies to consider it for deployment. Federal CIOs are currently working to streamline cloud accreditations across agencies with the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP).

The USDA said in December it had approved the Microsoft cloud data centers it will use for its BPOS-Federal implementation under FISMA. The department also plans to pursue FISMA certification and accreditation for Microsoft's hosted productivity suite Office 365 after it launches, according to the blog post.

Microsoft is battling it out with Google for federal cloud deployments, especially since email and collaboration are some of the first applications agencies are moving to the cloud. In addition to the USDA, the General Services Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the U.S. Army also are migrating from on-premises to cloud-hosted email. While some agencies choose to use public companies for their deployments, others are using private clouds due to security concerns.

Compliance with FISMA is essential for vendors that want federal agencies to deploy their cloud solutions, and even that battle became contentious between the two technology giants recently. Microsoft accused Google of lying about FISMA compliance for Google Apps Federal, its competitor to BPOS-Federal, a claim Google denied.