The agency announced the award to Onix Networks in a notice posted Monday to federal contracting site FedBizOpps.gov. The Interior Department had planned in 2010 to award a similar contract to a Microsoft reseller for an estimated $59 million, but eventually withdrew that procurement after a court battle over whether the agency had wrongfully specified that only Microsoft's services could meet its needs.
Interior joins a number of other federal agencies in moving to cloud email services. The General Services Administration, Department of Agriculture, the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have also moved to the cloud for their email services. Others, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, have also discussed such a shift.
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The new contract will move the agency's 90,000 email users from a mishmash of seven distinct instances of Lotus Domino and Microsoft Exchange, as well as disparate instant messaging and collaboration apps, to Google's cloud email and collaboration services.
The effort ties into a broader IT consolidation effort at Interior. "This award is a great example of how our IT Transformation initiative is already delivering value to the Department," Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said in a statement. "Implementing a Department-wide, cloud-based email system that helps modernize the ways we do business while cutting costs is good government, plain and simple."
The objective is to migrate all email inboxes to Google by 2012, according to the agency. Interior will also use Google Sites. The solicitation required that Google provide email, calendaring, task management, and personal email archiving, among other features.
According to the solicitation, whichever service that won the award would have to be provided from either a government community cloud or a private cloud. Google introduced its Google Apps for Government, which stores government data on dedicated servers isolated from servers that store more general data, in July 2010.
The Interior email story begins in April 2010, when Google claimed that agency CTO William Corrington told the company that "'a path forward had already been chosen' for the DOI messaging solution and there would be no opportunity for Google to compete because its product was not compliant with DOI's security requirements." That was followed, Google said, by mixed messages about whether Google would even be considered.
In August 2010, the agency released a procurement document that indicated Microsoft was the only company that could meet Interior's requirements. Soon thereafter, Google and Onix Networks sued the agency, claiming that the procurement was "arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise contrary to law."
In January 2011, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims granted an injunction against the award of the contract to Microsoft. Then, in September 2011, the court dropped the suit after Interior agreed to scrap its contract and release a revised version, which it did in February.
"Microsoft has a positive, longstanding relationship with the Department of Interior and we are working on a number of enterprise-wide initiatives with the agency," Microsoft said in a statement Tuesday. "Although we are disappointed by this award, we will engage with our partners and DOI to review and understand the reasons for this decision."
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