Interior Department: Back To The Drawing Board For Cloud

The Interior Department's renewed search for a cloud vendor comes as a direct result of Google suing the federal agency, and Google later seeking to drop that lawsuit, claiming that it was unfairly ignored during the DOI's cloud decision process and that procurement documents were skewed and worded in a way where only Microsoft could compete for the nearly $60 million cloud contract.

A federal judge ruled yesterday to dismiss Google's lawsuit, with prejudice, on the grounds that the Department of the Interior vowed to open up its cloud computing search to a competitive bidding processes.

In an e-mail to CRN, the DOI said it will go back to the drawing board and conduct more research before making a final decision on which vendor will win its cloud contract. In doing so, the DOI scraps its original plans to sign on with Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) Federal.

"In accordance with Interior's authority to determine its business requirements and procurement methods, we intend to conduct research to evaluate the cloud computing marketplace's evolution over the past 18 months," Interior Department Press Secretary Adam Fetcher wrote in an e-mail to CRN. "If the research indicates that market conditions warrant a new procurement for agency-wide cloud based messaging and collaboration services, the Department will proceed in that manner. We appreciate Google's decision to withdraw its protest so that we may continue to manage this procurement in a fair and transparent manner."

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One DOI official told CRN that Google's withdrawal of its protest in the Court of Federal Claims paves the way for the DOI to manage the procurement in a fair and transparent way and that continuing with the legal battle was serving neither the DOI's nor Google's interests. That official added that the agency realized that the cloud computing market and messaging around it has matured significantly since the DOI selected Microsoft and new market research is necessary. The Interior Department could still select Microsoft, but could also choose another cloud vendor, like Google, based on its findings.

"Our goal has always been and remains to manage this procurement in a manner consistent with the FAR [Fair Acquisition Regulations] in order to ensure that we obtain the best cloud messaging service possible in order to meet our business requirements," one DOI official told CRN.

Meanwhile, despite withdrawing its case, Google said it is pleased with the outcome and happy to have a chance to compete for the DOI's cloud e-mail and collaboration system.

"We're pleased with the outcome of our discussions with the Department of Interior, and look forward to the opportunity to compete for its business and save taxpayers money," a Google spokesperson wrote in an e-mail to CRN.

The judge's dismissal of the case closes the nearly year-long legal battle in which Google sought to be considered for the Interior Department's cloud contract. Google and reseller Onix Networking originally filed the lawsuit in October 2010.

In January, Google won a temporary injunction that put the DOI's Microsoft cloud plans on ice.