Microsoft Office 365 For Government Faces Google Apps

Cloud app rivals fight for government customers; Microsoft launches with note that government customer data will be segregated from other customers' data.
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Microsoft has introduced Office 365 for Government, a version of its applications-in-the-cloud offering that is geared to the security requirements of the U.S. federal government.

Like the other Office 365 variants, Office 365 for Government delivers productivity and collaboration services including Exchange Online, Lync Online, SharePoint Online, and Office Professional Plus. Microsoft disclosed plans in March to provide the new service, which replaces its Business Productivity Online Suite Federal.

Microsoft describes Office 365 for Government as a "community cloud" where government data is segregated from that of its other customers. It's a multi-tenant offering, which means multiple government customers will be supported on common infrastructure.

[ Read about the feds' plan to improve mobile services, among other digital initiatives. See 3 Goals Of White House 'Digital Government' Plan. ]

Microsoft has already signed state and local governments to use Office 365, including California, Minnesota, San Francisco, Newark, and Plano. This version of its software as a service is aimed at the federal market, where cloud service provides must satisfy a handful of regulatory requirements to do business.

Earlier this month, Microsoft said Office 365 had been granted "authority to operate" under the Federal Information Security Management Act. Office 365 is also compliant with ISO 27001, SAS70 Type II, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and the US Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft is locked in a battle for the government cloud apps market with Google, which first offered Google Apps for Government, which is also FISMA-certified, in July 2010. Since then, Google has signed Colorado, Wyoming, Maryland, and Utah as customers.

Most recently, Google was awarded a contract by the Department of the Interior, which had originally selected Microsoft until Google sued. The company objected that the requirements mandated compatibility with Microsoft BPOS and the contract was thrown out and rebid.

Microsoft said that Office 365 for Government will support Internet Protocol version 6 (IPV6) by September, and also the Criminal Justice Information Services Security Policy. The latter policy specifies information security requirements specific to criminal justice information, as well as personally identifiable information derived from criminal justice information.

Geared specifically toward the federal government, its agencies, and third parties, FISMA is a set of requirements aimed at establishing a baseline level of computer and network security. In our FISMA Lifts All Compliance Boats report, we show that when you reach FISMA compliance, you'll likely be compliant with just about every security mandate out there. (Free registration required.)