Agriculture Department switching e-mail to the Web

By Marjorie Censer
Monday, December 13, 2010; 10

The Agriculture Department said last week it is moving its e-mail services to the cloud, adding another federal agency to the list of those getting behind Web-based computing.

The department is migrating 120,000 e-mail accounts -- 100,000 government employees and about 20,000 contractors -- and expects to complete the project early next year, said Chris Smith, the Agriculture Department's chief information officer. The department said it awarded a contract worth up to $27 million over three years to Dell, partnered with Microsoft.

According to Smith, the Agriculture Department chose to work with Microsoft because it already had a significant investment in the company's e-mail programs.

The migration aligns with a broad government push to increase federal use of the cloud. The Office of Management and Budget has announced a "cloud-first" policy that gives priority to the technology, while GSA recently said it will work with Unisys, partnered with Google, to move its e-mail services to the cloud.

Cloud technology is intended to reduce costs by allowing users to share a common infrastructure, and the Agriculture Department said it expects to save $6 million annually when compared with the cost of its existing program.

The Agriculture Department had long been seeking to modernize its e-mail accounts; in fact, the agency started to make plans years ago to consolidate 27 e-mail systems into one, according to Smith.

"We were consolidating internally, but we kept watching the cloud environment," he said. This spring, the agency decided cloud computing was mature enough and cost-efficient enough to make sense.

Smith said the department is now convinced that e-mail offered through Web-based applications and services far outpaces the e-mail service the department could provide internally.

"The cost . . . the performance and, I would say most importantly, the service level is greater in the cloud," he said. "As an internal offering, we're not able to keep up."

Curt Kolcun, vice president of Microsoft's public sector, said he hopes the company's role will help it win additional work as cloud computing becomes increasingly prevalent.

"We really see that these are transformative times and a great momentum for Microsoft," Kolcun said.

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