Google Apps gets a government version

Google is now offering up its Google Apps suite to federal, state, and local governments. Features remain the same, but what Google is doing with data and security makes things interesting.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
3 min read

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.--Google says its ready to offer its online office suite to the U.S. government.

At a press briefing here at its headquarters, Google announced a new version of its Apps suite designed specifically for government customers. This tier will be sold alongside the existing version of Google Apps and priced the same as the company's premiere license--$50 per user, per year.

Google Apps for Government features all the same applications that can be found in other versions but comes with a higher level of security, which Google says meets the requirements set forth by the Federal Information Security Management Act. This includes segregated data centers, which Google says goes beyond FISMA regulations, and will keep government e-mail and calendar event data within U.S. borders.

Google says it got its FISMA certification late last week, after having to change a number of back-end security features and protocols. "FISMA has an enormous amount of controls," said Google's director of product management for enterprise, Matt Glotzbach. "Things we did on an ad hoc basis, we needed to do on a regularly scheduled basis. We applied these changes to all our production changes."

But given the extra level of security, does being on one of the government plans mean those users won't get new features, as Google rolls them out to users? Not according to Glotzbach. "FISMA re-audits on an annual basis. Most of the types of features and innovation wouldn't trigger a review, or re-audit," he said. "If we make a change to the back-end infrastructure or edit, we then notify our sponsoring agency."

According to Google, the federal government spends $76 billion on information technology, while some $56 billion is spent by state and local governments. Glotzbach pointed to examples from the existing Google Apps installations at the Berkeley Lab and the U.S. Navy--both of which he says will save those groups money over the systems they were using before. In the case of the Berkeley Lab, Google says it's a projected savings of $1.5 million to $2 million over the next five years.

Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt, who dropped in near the end of the news briefing, said the government organizations the company had talked with were "dying" to make the move to a cloud-based office infrastructure. "All of them have the same problem. They're trapped in architecture that's 15 to 20 years old. They would much prefer to have somebody manage the services than them manage the data centers," he said. "It's not that they don't want it. It's just that there's this one thing they need."

In the case of the Los Angeles, which is still in the progress of being one of Google's biggest government installs of Google Apps, that "one thing" has been a moving target, leading to a delay of having it deployed for all of the city's employees. The failure to meet the June deadline of a complete rollout is starting to cost Google and the Computer Sciences Corp., which will pay the city for breaching the agreement, as well as adding an extension to the original contract.

Dave Girouard, president of enterprise for Google, lamented the situation but said the LA deal was a big part of getting Google Apps for government out the door. "We'd love to rolled out to 50 smaller cities ahead of LA...but in the end, LA will be a great success for the city, and for Google, and it will help open up [Google Apps] for much bigger cities."

This post was updated throughout at 12:10 p.m. PDT.