Microsoft's cloud apps catch up with Google on FISMA certification

Company's federal online suite gets approval from USDA

About a week after starting a public kerfuffle over whether Google Apps for Government is certified for government systems, Microsoft can now claim equal footing on the certification front.

The company announced April 20 that its cloud-based suite of applications has passed muster for government use according to Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) standards. Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite for the federal government, or BPOS-Federal, received an "authorization to operate" clearance from the Agriculture Department, according to a Microsoft blog post.

Government IT systems must meet security certification and accreditation standards specified by the 2002 FISMA law (PDF). Software products aren't certified as "FISMA-compliant" per se, but the systems running them do have to meet FISMA standards.

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Microsoft had received authorization for its datacenters in November based on FISMA requirements. However, it had lacked such authorization for its hosted applications that ran in those datacenters. Now, with the added authorization, the way is cleared for BPOS-Federal applications to be rolled out to 120,000 USDA employees.

Still, a legal tussle could dog Microsoft along the way -- at least in terms of obtaining some government contracts. A lawsuit filed by Google in October against the Interior Department alleges that Google was excluded from competitive-bidding contract considerations when Microsoft won a BPOS-Federal contract with that government organization. Of note was that Google's product had been approved according to FISMA standards while Microsoft's had not.

Microsoft returned fire. Earlier this month, a Microsoft attorney asserted that Google Apps for Government lacks FISMA certification, based on a Justice Department brief filed in the suit against Interior.

However, the General Services Administration, which can issue FISMA certification approvals, weighed in, stating that Google Apps Premier was "FISMA compliant in July of 2010" and that Google Apps for Government uses the same controls. The GSA currently is just assessing some added security controls in the Apps for Government suite.

Microsoft will update its BPOS line of hosted applications with a new offering called "Office 365," which is currently available for testing as a beta release. Microsoft expects to roll out Office 365 services commercially sometime this summer. After that commercial release, Microsoft plans "to pursue FISMA certification and accreditation for Office 365," according to Microsoft's blog post.


About the Author

Kurt Mackie is the online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group sites, including, and

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