GSA to be first federal agency to move e-mail to cloud-based system

By Marjorie Censer
Thursday, December 2, 2010; 7:15 PM

The General Services Administration has announced that it will be the first federal agency to move e-mail to a cloud-based system, reflecting the government's push to adopt Web-based computing.

The GSA awarded a $6.7 million, five-year task order to Unisys, a Pennsylvania-based contractor that has an extensive presence in the Washington area. Unisys is partnering with Google, Tempus Nova and Acumen Solutions.

Casey Coleman, the GSA's chief information officer, said the agency will migrate 17,000 e-mail accounts, including those of government employees and contractors.

The shift to the cloud means the agency will access software and other computing resources on demand. Cloud computing advocates say the technology's reliance on a shared pool of resources makes it possible for networks, servers and other equipment to be used more efficiently.

Coleman said the move means users will see immediate upgrades when improvements are made to the e-mail program, rather than having to wait for individual computers to be updated. Additionally, she said it will nearly cut in half the GSA's e-mail spending compared with the existing in-house program.

The GSA "is leading the federal government going into the cloud and showing what is possible," she said.

Coleman sought to dispel concerns about security, noting that the contract specifies that the GSA will retain ownership and control of its data.

If the GSA ends the contract, the data must be removed from the contractor's servers, she said.

The agency expects to complete the migration by the end of September.

The Office of Management and Budget announced last month that the government was adopting a "cloud-first" policy, meaning that federal agencies will be required to default to cloud-based solutions. The GSA said its award is "in step" with that strategy.

Marjorie Censer is a reporter for Capital Business.

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