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Microsoft offers cloud services for the feds

New Microsoft cloud-computing service offers federal agencies a high level of security, including biometric access control and fingerprinting for background checks.

Ron Markezich, corporate vice president of Microsoft Online Services Microsoft

Microsoft on Wednesday launched a new cloud-computing service targeting the federal government.

Business Productivity Online Suite Federal offers higher security standards than the company's regular cloud-computing service, including fingerprinting as part of background checks and biometric access control, said Ron Markezich, corporate vice president of Microsoft Online Services.

Additional security mechanisms are required for agencies like the Defense Department and NASA, but the standard suite has obtained a number of security and privacy certifications that make it attractive to local and state governments as well, he said in an interview after announcing the offering at the Microsoft U.S. Public Sector CIO Summit.

The federal service is housed on a separate, dedicated infrastructure in secured facilities, Microsoft said in a statement.

Microsoft's suite, which includes e-mail, calendar, collaboration, and communication software, is being used by companies like McDonald's and Coca-Cola, as well as the U.K. postal service and more than 500 state and local governments including the cities of Newark, N.J., and Carlsbad, Calif., according to Microsoft.

The company faces competition from Google for subscription revenue from organizations that are choosing cloud or Internet-based services rather than maintaining desktop applications. Google announced last September that it would launch a dedicated cloud for government users in 2010.

"When it comes to Google or other players, we have the most progress when it comes to cloud computing in business productivity. We have the largest customers and the largest brand names," Markezich said. "No one else provides this (high level of security) for the public sector. We've raised the bar with regard with security and privacy."

Update 4:57 p.m. PST Markezich said Microsoft's suite will have FISMA (Federal Information Security Management Act) certification within six months.