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Microsoft online app melodrama wins federal certification

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Microsoft's BPOS-Federal suite of online business applications has been certified for use by the US government. Which highlights the fact that it wasn't certified earlier.

Earlier this month, Microsoft made headlines when it accused Google of making "misleading security claims" to the US government, an accusation that hinged on whether Mountain View's Google Apps for Government suite had been certified under the requirements of FISMA (the Federal Information Security Management Act).

The irony was that Microsoft's suite of online applications for government agencies – Business Productivity Online Services-Federal – had won a major contract from the US Department of the Interior even though it had not been FISMA certified.

Naturally, Google pointed this out. And it insisted that Microsoft's claims about Google Apps for Government were false: that its suite had been certified. Microsoft cited recently unsealed court documents in which the Department of Justice (DoJ) said Apps for Government lacked certification. But the situation is more complicated than this might indicate.

Last July, Google received certification for its Google Apps Premier Edition suite, and then it promptly released Apps for Government, which makes two "security enhancements" to Premier Edition. Last year, according to Google, it consulted with the General Services Administration (GSA), the organization that awarded its FISMA certification, and the GSA said that the Google Apps for Government name and its security enhancements could be incorporated into Google's existing certification. It appears, however, that this has yet to officially happen.

"We take the federal government’s security requirements seriously and have delivered on our promise to meet them. What’s more, we’ve been open and transparent with the government, and it’s irresponsible for Microsoft to suggest otherwise," Google said in a blog post.

The two security enhancements are relatively straightforward – though they're more about peace of mind than security. Unlike Google Apps Premier Edition, Apps for Government segregates Gmail and Google Calendar data in a section of Google's back-end infrastructure that's separate from services used by non-government users, and Google ensures that all data centers housing these segregated applications are located in the continental United States.

This past fall, Google sued the US Department of the Interior (DOI), claiming that the agency did not give Google a fair chance to win a contract to provide email and collaboration services for the DOI's roughly 88,000 employees. The contract went to Microsoft – but in response to Google's suit, a federal judge issued a temporary court order preventing the DOI from moving to Microsoft BPOS-Federal.

When the DOI sent out an RFQ (request for quotation) for online email services, according to Google's lawsuit, the agency said it would consider only proposals involving Microsoft BPOS. Google said this was "unduly restrictive of competition", and according to the suit the DOI expressed concern over Google's ability to meet FISMA requirements and provide a service whose infrastructure is dedicated to the DOI.

And yet BPOS was not FISMA-certified. We know this because, on Wednesday, Microsoft announced its newly won certification in a blog post.

The DoJ's statement about Google Apps for Government lacking FISMA certification arrived as part of the court case brought by Google. The irony is deep. ®

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