Move to Office 365 gives USDA robust e-discovery

With its migration of e-mail to the Microsoft Office 365 cloud, the Agriculture Department has one of the most robust e-discovery capabilities in the federal government, according to Chris Smith, USDA’s CIO.

The USDA is using ProofPoint Enterprise Archive, which works seamlessly with Office 365 to archive information. The USDA completed a migration of 120,000 employees to Office 365 in September 2011, offering them email and collaboration services in a secure cloud infrastructure.

For those agencies that needed to retain legacy information, USDA built a separate cloud that is hosted by Amazon as software-as-a-service, Smith told GCN during an interview at the recent Microsoft Public Sector CIO Summit held in Redmond, Wash.


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Data migration is a challenge for organizations moving applications to the cloud, but even more so in an environment as large and complex as USDA, which has a broad mission that includes ensuring an abundant food supply, handling overseas exports and managing the country’s forests.

By moving to the cloud, USDA wanted to provide its various components a unified communications platform that employees could use to work across a broad mission set, Smith said.

In deciding to standardize on Microsoft Outlook three years ago, USDA moved 60,000 employees to Microsoft Exchange on premise with the another 60,000 remaining on Lotus Notes. By 2009, as cloud computing matured, USDA began to map a plan for migration to the cloud.

Employees had been collecting a lot of data over a very long time, Smith said. “I think we took a pretty savvy approach” to data migration, he said. “We told people we were taking about 30 to 45 days to move,” but if employees needed 90 days, the IT team was flexible with them.

Some agencies and components may or may not have had good e-discovery capabilities or the best records retention policy in place. So for those that needed to move legacy information, USDA provided  a solution in the Amazon cloud also using ProofPoint to archive data.

"We now have one of the most robust e-discovery capabilities, I think, in the federal government because we put in the ProofPoint solution, which basically does journaling of every e-mail coming through. We can store that and tag it for records retention,” Smith said.

“So it was a really big win for our Office of General Counsel and our e-discovery” capability, he said.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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