NOAA’s Messaging Platform Moves to the Cloud

The mission of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Washington, D.C.), is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment–from the depths of the oceans to the surface of the sun–and to conserve and manage coastal and marine resources.

In June 2011, NOAA announced an $11.5 million, three-year contract award to Earth Resources Technology to serve as systems integrator for its new cloud-based unified messaging services. NOAA’s decision to pursue the cloud solution supports the Obama administration’s direction to pursue a "cloud first" approach to IT initiatives. To date, NOAA is the largest federal agency to adopt cloud technology, and it has plans to migrate 25,000 mailboxes to the cloud via Google Apps for Government, rather than utilize in-house services. The migration completion goal was year-end 2011.

"So far, about 1,000 of our people have transitioned over as early adopters," Joe Klimavicz, NOAA’s CIO, told CIO Insight in fall 2011. "We expect everyone else to transition over in December."

This agency-wide transition has wide-ranging goals, including:

  • modernizing e-mail and calendar infrastructure;

  • integrating collaborative tools; and

  • facilitating synchronization with mobile devices to better support NOAA’s mission through its nationwide workforce.

"NOAA personnel are located coast-to-coast, on the oceans and in the air," explains Klimavicz. "This system will allow them to share information and strengthen collaborative productivity. As a cutting-edge science agency, we are looking forward to bringing up-to-the-minute workplace technologies to our personnel."

ERT will implement Google Apps for Government suite of solutions in partnership with Google, Unisys, and Tempus Nova. "ERT has been a long-term partner of ours," says Klimavicz. "They manage a good number of our current e-mail systems, so having that familiarity has really helped out."

NOAA is looking forward to a number of benefits as the cloud-based unified messaging suite is rolled out. "We like the idea of having everyone on the same e-mail system, having seamless integration with our mobile devices, and having access to a whole new suite of collaboration tools," says Klimavicz.

Klimavicz says there have been no major problems with the roll-out, either on the "hard" (technology) side or the "soft" (people) side. "There have been no surprises or major issues with the technology," says Klimavicz. "In addition, the technology is pretty intuitive, so there hasn’t been much training required." One reason for the seamless transition has been that, since NOAA is a science organization, many of its employees are already familiar with Google Apps.    "However, we have created a number of comprehensive training courses that people have been taking," continues Klimavicz. "There is a course for every aspect of the migration, and, to date, employee reaction has been very positive."

According to Klimavicz, the cost to the taxpayer will be 50 percent less than an in-house solution. "As the new standard, cloud computing has great value allowing us to ramp up quickly, avoid redundancy, and provide new services and capabilities to large groups of customers."

The messaging technology is actually just part of a larger cloud-based vision, but central to that vision. "We have a number of cloud initiatives within NOAA, including  cloud-based VOIP," states Klimavicz. "There are also others that we are pursuing, such as a cloud-based geospatial initiative. However, I think this messaging technology is really the centerpiece of these broader cloud-based tools and applications."

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