Google today announced its Apps for Government, a new version of its premium Google Apps productivity suite that includes Gmail, Documents, Calendar, Sites, Groups, Video, and Postini. Like the Premier edition, Google Apps for Government clocks in at $50 per user per year, but unlike Premier, Apps for Government is security certified by the U.S. government.
Apps for Government is certified under FISMA, the Federal Information Security Management Act. Specifically, it qualifies for a FISMA-Moderate rating, meaning it's cleared for use with information that's sensitive, though not classified. It's the very first suite of cloud computing apps to receive this level of authorization, and Google took steps to ensure it would qualify: Servers used by Apps for Government are separated from other, less sensitive servers, located exclusively in the continental United States.
Some government agencies already use Google Apps, including Washington, DC, Kansas, New Mexico, and the city of Orlando, but the security rating means that agencies on every level of government--local, state, and federal--can feel sure that Google Apps are secure enough for a certain level of use.
Apps for Government has a lot of really exciting potential, for exactly the same reasons Google Apps is used by private businesses across the world. Storage is handled elsewhere, data is immediately and constantly backed up, users can simultaneously edit documents, there's no hardware or software to install, and you don't need to be on-site to use it.
Of course, most apps require an Internet connection, and as Technologizer points out, some apps are not as evolved as Microsoft's offerings (notably PowerPoint). Microsoft will certainly reply in kind, as it rolls out its new Office 2010 productivity suite, laden with cloud-based features. But Apps for Government is ready now, and as the government moves toward a paperless future, it could be a major stepping stone.