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Microsoft has beaten rival Google to deliver a version of its online applications tailored for US government users.

This week, the company announced delivery of its Business Productivity Online Suite Federal, which updates the existing online suite with security, privacy, and compliance features.

The suite includes Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Office Live Meeting, and Office Communications Online.

Among the features are secured and separate hosting facilities access, to which is restricted to a small number of US citizens who have cleared rigorous background checks under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

The federal service comes as Microsoft said it had also updated the existing suite to meet other regulatory and service-level conditions. These included the Statement on Auditing Standard (SAS) No. 70 Type II, Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 140-2 compliance, and the International Organization for Standardization's (ISO) 27001 standard, among others.

Microsoft also plans to add two-factor authentication and enhanced encryption and to achieve the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) certification in the next six months.

Business Productivity Online Suite Federal comes ahead of Google's plan to deliver versions of Google Apps for US government departments and agencies. The company last September said it was in talks with government agencies over a deal on its services and working to ensure they meet regulatory requirements. Google was also working on achieving FISMA certification this year.

Ron Markezich, corporate vice president of Microsoft Online, said in a statement that Microsoft was first because of its experience in providing other online services. "We were able to achieve this industry first thanks to our experience providing dedicated cloud services for the past five years," Markezich said.

Government is emerging as an early adopter of cloud computing. Federal CIO Vivek Kundra sees cloud as a way to speed delivery of new IT and services to government at reduced cost. He last year launched an online store for government users to browse and purchase cloud applications while NASA Ames Research Center is building the Nebula infrastructure cloud to help serve up government data. Nebula is being built on the open-source implementation of Amazon's EC2, Eucalyptus. ®

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