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Google Tackles the Federal Market

Kim Hart

Google isn't the first company that comes to mind when I think of typical presenters at FOSE--the world's biggest government IT expo going on right now at the Washington Convention Center.

But the company participated for the first time this year. Google sponsored its own booth to help educate attendees about how Google Apps, Google Earth, and Google's Search Appliances can be applied to government business. Dave Girouard, vice president and general manager for Google Enterprise, gave the first keynote speech of the conference. His message to federal agencies and government contractors: give cloud computing a try.

Think of all the security risks that could be eliminated, he said. He pointed to examples of stolen laptops containing sensitive data. When all the critical information is stored in the cloud instead of your hard drive, nothing is compromised if employees lose their laptops, he said.

Many agencies and system integrators have been cautious about trying out Internet-based tools. Software-based programs, from word processors to data storage, are largely considered more reliable and secure because they don't depend on an Internet connection. And some managers find comfort in knowing all the company's information is resting in a giant server somewhere nearby.

Girouard is trying to change those perceptions. On-premise software programs won't go away entirely, he said, but the biggest innovations from here on out will likely take place in the "cloud." He also pointed out that agencies will have to adapt in order to attract the next crop of engineers--or what he called "the cloud generation."

"We'll have to earn your trust," he told the audience.

I caught up with him for a few minutes after the speech to find out a bit more about Google' s government efforts. The company started working with government customers back in 2002, but has in the past year put a lot of resources into strengthening its presence in the IT contracting community. Google now has an 18-person federal sales team.

He said businesses of all sizes already use many Google-hosted products. About 100 agencies already use Google's Search Appliance to power internal search, he said. Some also use versions of Google Maps and Google Earth for internal purposes. Some are using Google products in pilot projects. The District has also partnered with Google.

Making these applications available offline is a key criteria for many agencies, who don't want productivity to be dependent on a flaky Internet connection. Girouard said Google is addressing that issue. This week the company launched the offline capabilities for Google Docs, so you can keep working when not connected to the Internet. Offline versions of Gmail will also likely be rolled out, he said.

"Everyone's had that moment of feeling paralyzed by a network being down, so that's made people shy of Web apps," he said. Offline versions "are big steps forward to untether productivity from networks."

"Google will have to do things differently" to work with defense and intelligence agencies, where data security and privacy are held to the tightest standards. But he argued that having information spread across hundreds of different servers is actually more secure than housing data on a few servers at a specific location. "Security is now more virtual than physical," he said.

By Kim Hart  |  April 1, 2008; 4:40 PM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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