Google Gets Chance To Prove Cloud Security In Interior Department Lawsuit

legal battle over the cloud computing contract for the U.S. Department of the Interior

Federal Court Judge Susan Braden late last week ordered the Interior Department to consult an independent third-party expert who will examine Google's Google Apps for Government cloud e-mail and collaboration offerings, according to court documents obtained by CRN. That expert, who will closely inspect Google's cloud security, will report its findings to the court.

"From the beginning, we've simply asked for the opportunity to compete for the Department of Interior's business," a Google spokesperson said in an e-mail to CRN. "We're gratified the court is now giving us the chance to demonstrate how we can save U.S. taxpayers tens of millions of dollars."

The lawsuit, filed by Google and Ohio-based reseller Onix Networking against the Interior Department in October 2010, claims that the bidding process of the federal agency's cloud e-mail and collaboration system was skewed to favor Microsoft and that Google was not part of a competitive bidding process for the contract. The suit claims the wording of the procurement documents and the DOI's section process for Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS)-Federal cloud offers didn't take into consideration Google's Google Apps cloud e-mail and collaboration play. Microsoft is not a party in the lawsuit.

In January, Google won a temporary injunction by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington D.C., which put the brakes on the nearly $60 million five-year contract that Microsoft had been awarded by the Department of the Interior. That injunction, issued by Braden, will remain in effect until Sept. 19, 2011 to give the DOI time to find an expert to examine Google Apps for Government.

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"The purpose of this extension is to allow the parties to prepare a proposed order regarding the terms of the appointment of an independent technical expert … who will supplement the Administrative Record with a report to the court and parties," Braden wrote in the order. The order continued: "Google Inc. will submit to the Department of the Interior its full certification and accreditation package and DOI will engage an independent technical expert(s) who will make a report to DOI that DOI will evaluate and decide upon for the court's consideration."

Microsoft Monday declined to comment on the lawsuit.

According to court documents, the Interior Department has claimed that Google Apps for Government did not meet the security demands required of its cloud computing system, while Microsoft's BPOS-Federal edition does.

The Department of the Interior lawsuit is just one of several cloud battles Google and Microsoft are fighting as the war for cloud computing dominance continues and both companies seek to add more customers, particularly government agencies, to their customer rosters.

During the course of the Interior Department lawsuit, Google and Microsoft battled over the two companies' Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) certifications, a kerfuffle in which Microsoft claimed Google Apps for Government wasn't FISMA certified and therefore wasn't considered secure enough to be used by government agencies. Through the course of the FISMA flap, it was revealed that Microsoft itself was not FISMA certified in the cloud. Both Google and Microsoft have since achieved FISMA certifications.

The lawsuit also comes as the federal cloud takes hold and more government agencies look to adopt cloud computing solutions, a move spurred by former federal CIO Vivek Kundra's federal cloud first policy. Recently, Amazon Web Services joined the likes of Google and Microsoft in the race to the federal cloud with its AWS GovCloud.