Federal Outlook: Cloudy With a Good Chance of UC

15 Dec 2010

Washington is very cloudy these days. Winter is right around the corner. The local, so-called, professional sports teams are unfortunately performing as expected. To paraphrase the old saw, "Washington: first in war, first in peace, and last in most any league." Then, of course, there's political Washington, enough said on that.

But wait, there are more clouds on the D.C. horizon and they definitely have a silver lining. "Cloud" alternatives have been a key direction of federal IT for quite some time and now cloud-based approaches are appearing in the UC domain starting with email and collaboration for a number of agencies.

There have been three recent developments in this area. First, in late October 2010, the U.S. Army announced a program to migrate email to an overall enterprise solution utilizing the Defense Information Systems Agency's (DISA) cloud-based Microsoft Exchange service. According to the Army's CIO, "The Army's move to Enterprise Email enables users to access their Army email from any DoD location and to collaborate with any Army user worldwide via a Global Address List and enterprise calendar sharing."

In early December, the General Services Administration (GSA) announced a contract to move its email system to a Google cloud-based service. The announcement highlighted the fact that this cloud approach will reduce inefficiencies and lower costs by 50 percent over the next five years while providing GSA employees with a "modern and robust email and collaboration platform." The agency-wide Google Apps solution will serve over 17,000 employees and contractors and, per Google, it is the first cloud email/collaboration apps suite to receive Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) certification.

Also, in early December, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it was close to going live with its Microsoft cloud-based Enterprise Messaging Service (EMS) which includes email, web conferencing, document collaboration, and instant messaging. It is based on Exchange Online for messaging and calendaring, SharePoint Online for document collaboration, Office Communications Online for instant messaging and Office Live Meeting for web conferencing. Over 120,000 users will be migrated to the cloud-based system starting in January 2011 according to USDA.

Is there a trend here? Certainly, it's cloud, cloud, cloud and software, software, software. There is significant influence by Microsoft, but Google and others are clearly in the mix. One would expect the more traditional hosted service folks in telephony, messaging and other apps to step up to the federal cloud plate and get their swings in. Not to mention the federal systems integrator gang who can't afford to be too passive on this subject.

Cloud-based solutions are now the first-choice in federal IT policy; this was emphasized by the Office of Management and Budget in its December 9 plan for restructuring federal IT. It will be interesting to see how the shift to "cloud first" will be implemented. It will likewise be interesting to see what UC elements or modules are delivered via the cloud and in what sequence to accommodate federal user requirements. Stay tuned.

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