Microsoft battles Google for government dollars

Microsoft's BPOS has scored some high profile public-sector contracts over Google Apps, but Microsoft complains agencies have used Google services unfairly

Microsoft used its annual Public Sector CIO Summit to highlight the use of its cloud services and take a few digs at Google, which has won some high profile public-sector contracts itself.

Microsoft on Wednesday announced 16 new education and government customers, including Portland Public Schools in Oregon; the City of Alexandria, Virginia; Colorado's Department of Labor and Employment; and the City of Carlsbad, California.

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Portland's 5,000 faculty and staff will start using Microsoft's Live@edu service this year and 46,000 students will get access to it shortly after, Microsoft said. Live@edu is an email and collaboration service for schools.

The district is replacing an aging Novell GroupWise system and expects to save money and enhance the relationship between teachers and students, said Nick Jwayad, CIO of Portland Public Schools.

In a press release, Microsoft crowed that Portland Public Schools and University of Albany -- SUNY had chosen Microsoft over Google Apps. It also said that Winston-Salem, North Carolina, is migrating its 600 Google Apps business users and 2,150 Novell GroupWise users onto Microsoft's Business Process Online Suite (BPOS).

BPOS is Microsoft's hosted services offering that includes Exchange, Sharepoint and Office Live Meeting.

Microsoft also said it was close to getting FISMA certification for its BPOS services. It has already achieved the certification for its data centers and expects to complete the process for the applications within a month or so, Kulcon said.

The Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) is a stringent security standard that some federal agencies are required to comply with. Google Apps is already FISMA certified.

Microsoft also complained about some instances where it says government agencies have used Google services unfairly or in ways that could compromise security.

For instance, Microsoft maintains that the General Services Administration (GSA), which last year said it would start using Google Apps, changed its contract during the bid process to allow for data to be stored outside of the U.S. To Microsoft, that appeared to be a concession that would allow Google to provide the service. The GSA awarded the contract to Unisys, which is subcontracting with Google to provide the service.

Microsoft is also complaining about what it calls a lack of full support for the OpenDocument Format in Google Docs, which is used at least informally by some government agencies. When Google Docs renders documents created in ODF, it alters them by, for example, changing page numbers, said Curt Kolcun, vice president of Microsoft's U.S. Public Sector group. Microsoft was subjected to intense pressure around the globe by government agencies that insisted it support the open document standards.

Kolcun also mentioned a situation where the GSA invited comments on its FedRamp project. It asked companies or individuals to upload their comments to Google Docs, he said. Microsoft was concerned about rights that Google might have to the documents. Microsoft complained to the GSA and was allowed to submit its comments using its Excel program instead, Kolcun said.

Google said it doesn't own data that people upload into its systems and pointed to its privacy policy, which deals mainly with how Google handles users' personal information, such as their name and email address.

In 2009, Google had to correct a bug that inadvertently shared some Google Docs with people even if the author hadn't shared them. The sharing was limited to people the user had shared documents with previously.

Kolcun also pointed to delays in the deployment of Google Apps in Los Angeles, in part due to security concerns from the police department.

Google has had its share of successes, however. It will supply hosted e-mail services to the GSA, which will become the first federal agency to use such a service. It has also won deals to offer Google Apps to agencies in Washington, D.C. and Orlando.

Microsoft says that there are now more than 3 million government employees using some form of Microsoft Online services. In addition, more than 15 million people are using its Live@edu services.

The companies clearly see a lot at stake in the government sector. Late last year, Google sued the U.S. Department of the Interior after it invited bids for a cloud email system but required bidders to use Microsoft products.

Nancy Gohring covers mobile phones and cloud computing for The IDG News Service. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @idgnancy. Nancy's email address is Nancy_Gohring@idg.com.

Correction: This article as originally posted incorrectly characterized a contract awarded by the GSA. The story has been amended.

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