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Air Force turns to Microsoft for network security

A consolidated contract, valued at $500 million over six years, aims to simplify and protect Air Force networks.

The U.S. Air Force is drafting Microsoft to help simplify its networks and software contracts, a move that could improve its computer security and deliver savings of $100 million.

The Air Force is consolidating its 38 software contracts and nine support contracts with Microsoft into two all-encompassing, agencywide agreements, according to a statement seen by CNET News.com.

The contract, done in conjunction with Dell, will call for the installation and configuration of software as well as ongoing maintenance and upgrades. The deal, which includes 525,000 licenses of Microsoft's Windows and Office, is valued at $500 million over six years, according to Microsoft.

The move is part of the "One Air Force, One Network" strategy that the Air Force plans to announce Friday. An Air Force representative confirmed many details of the announcement, including that it is expected to save the agency $100 million over six years.

"The consolidation will result in standard configurations for all Microsoft desktop and server software," the Air Force said in the statement. "The standard configurations will enforce rigorous security profiles and will be updated online with security patches and software updates."

Microsoft representatives confirmed that the company will work with the Air Force to define security configurations for the agency's desktop and servers. The representatives also said the deal includes an agencywide help desk service contract.

The Air Force deal differs from that of other government agencies because it will involve more custom work around security, and because the Air Force has taken an agencywide approach to procuring software and services, said Curt Kolcun, the general manager of Microsoft's federal business.

"By working together in this way, we can get a better understanding of what we need to do to our technology and how it will be applicable for commercial products, as well as other agencies," he said.

Government agencies have come under ongoing criticism for not buttoning up their network security. Last year, the U.S. Department of Defense got a 'D' in network security on the Federal Computer Security Report Card. The House Committee on Government Reform has not released this year's report card results.

The Department of Defense has historically been the most lucrative client for information technology companies.

Microsoft's responsibilities also will include implementing an Air Force-wide compliance policy, automating the patching and tracking of software applications, and building a unified help desk, according to a public contract announcement.

The Air Force expects to test all potential applications by mid-December to find out whether the software can be part of the agency's new network. The agency's security initiative is scheduled to be completed by October 2005, the Air Force stated in a contract announcement late last month.

CNET News.com's Martin LaMonica contributed to this report.