NOAA moving e-mail to Google's cloud

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plans to migrate 25,000 e-mail users to a cloud-based unified messaging service by the end of the year.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plans to migrate 25,000 e-mail users to a cloud-based unified messaging service by the end of the year.

The agencywide transition to Google Apps for Government will modernize e-mail and calendar infrastructure, integrate collaborative tools and synchronize messaging technology with mobile devices to better support NOAA’s mission and workforce, according to NOAA officials.

NOAA awarded an $11.5 million, three-year contract to Earth Resources Technologies, based in Laurel, Md., for cloud-based unified messaging services. The award was made using small-business vendors identified through NOAALink, the agency’s innovative acquisition model, which allows for the standardization of information technologies and solutions.


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ERT will provide Google Apps for Government, a suite of web-based messaging applications, in partnership with Google, Unisys and Tempus Nova. The new service will be operational by the end of 2011.

NOAA’s decision to pursue the cloud solution supports the Obama administration’s direction to pursue a “cloud first” approach.

“The cost to the taxpayer will be 50 percent less than an in-house solution,” said NOAA CIO Joseph Klimavicz, who announced the agency’s migration to the cloud at Google’s Innovation for the Nation, a one-day gathering held in Washington, D.C., on June 9 that brought together government CIOs to discuss the impact of technology on agency operations.

“As the new standard, cloud computing has great value allowing us to ramp up quickly, avoid redundancy and provide new services and capabilities to large groups of customers,” Klimavicz said.

Cloud computing provides on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or interaction from the service provider.

NOAA personnel are located all over the country, on the oceans and in the air, Klimavicz said, noting that a cloud-based messaging system will allow users to share information and strengthen collaborative productivity.

“By the end of the year, NOAA's workforce will migrate to Google Apps from its existing systems, giving employees tools like video chat and real-time document collaboration, and support for a broader range of mobile devices,” Dave Standish, Google’s federal civilian account manager wrote in a blog on June 9.

NOAA is also promoting new telework options, Standish said.

The Office of Management and Budget, as part of the 25-point plan for IT reform, requires agencies to move three applications to the cloud over the next 18 months.

Agency managers charged with moving applications to a cloud platform should start with Web-enabled applications such as e-mail to meet the cloud-first mandates, government and industry observers say.

The General Services Administration is moving e-mail and collaboration tools to Google Apps for Government and is banking on the migration to reduce inefficiencies and lower costs by 50 percent over the next five years.

Meanwhile, the Agriculture Department is moving its e-mail, document-sharing and other collaboration tools to Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure to save money and improve efficiency. USDA is moving 120,000 users to Microsoft Online Services, consolidating 21 different messaging and collaboration systems into one.

More federal agencies are expected to move e-mail to the cloud now that the GSA has released a request for quotation to provide government agencies with access to cloud-based e-mail solutions.

The RFQ, released on May 11, is for the first of GSA’s Integrated Email as a Service (EaaS) cloud offerings, designed to increase the speed of agency adoption, deployment, and implementation of cloud technology, GSA officials said.

EaaS solutions will allow agencies to purchase cloud services without the added cost of infrastructure maintenance, lowering the cost of government email and collaboration services. The technology will enable agencies to access e-mail and collaboration applications over the Internet from any location, GSA officials said.

Since GSA's announcement, the Health and Human Services and Labor departments have issued requests for information for e-mail cloud services.

Although e-mail is considered low-hanging fruit for government IT managers starting down the road toward cloud–based services, that doesn’t mean the migration will be easy or trouble free.

Instead, agencies must carefully plan the move and communicate with all levels of management and agency employees. And everyone should understand the intended benefits of the change, government and industry experts advise.

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