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Interior to rebid cloud contract after yearlong legal squabble

The Interior Department plans to reopen bidding on a contract to move its 88,000 email users to a single cloud-based system, according to a presolicitation notice posted Monday, four months after the department agreed to toss a 2010 award for that transition to Microsoft Corp.

The department withdrew the original award in exchange for a federal judge's agreement to also dismiss a yearlong legal challenge by Google, which said Interior unfairly structured the contract in such a way that essentially guaranteed Microsoft would win.

Interior's move to an agencywide cloud-based email system will be among the largest by a federal agency.

The department expects its request for proposals to come out on or around Feb. 7 and describes it as "a competitive firm fixed-price contract with a base period of one year and six option years."

Email is a popular choice for agencies to move to the cloud because it's comparatively easy and doesn't pose many of the security concerns that can stall other cloud transitions.

Cloud-based systems also are significantly cheaper than office-based systems and typically offer an array of tools beyond simple emailing. In addition to email, systems eligible for the Interior contract should offer "calendaring, email archiving, journaling, instant messaging, desktop videoconferencing and support for mobile devices," Monday's notice stated.

The Office of Management and Budget has directed all agencies to shift three services to the cloud by May and expects to save $5 billion annually by moving roughly one-fourth of the government's computing to the cloud by 2015. OMB published a list in May of three services each agency plans to move to the cloud by mid-2012.

According to that list, Interior also plans to move its main website, DOI.gov, to the cloud along with a system that aggregates information from six department divisions charged with reducing the impact of wildfires. It's not clear where those two transitions stand now.

A major selling point for cloud-based systems is they store information in off-site computer banks and provide access to it through the Web so users can reach their systems and documents on any computer, tablet or smartphone. Those systems also save customers money by packing data more tightly than on-site servers and charging for space like a utility, where customers pay only for the space they need.

This story has been revised to more accurately describe the scope of the Interior email transition.

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