At today's press conference , Google announced a new version of its Google Apps productivity suite, Google Apps For Government . The software has been certified as meeting U.S. Government security requirements. Like the Premier version of their suite, the cost is a yearly charge of $50 per user, and includes applications such as Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, and Postini, an e-mail/Web security and archiving service.

The certification is a FISMA-Moderate rating, which can be used for sensitive, but not classified data. FISMA stands for the Federal Information Security Management Act passed in 2002 and applies to all information systems used by federal government agencies. Google Apps for Government is the first cloud-based application suite to receive such certification.

Google hopes to offer government users, including state and local governments, the same benefits other customers receive through cloud computing: automatic updates, no server maintenance worries, and the ability to access data through a range of devices. They cite the ability to draw on Google's security experts for assistance as an additional feature. Dave Girouard, president of Google’s Enterprise division, observed, “Government has an enormous opportunity to leverage the Web as a platform. “IT is a massive part of the government spend each year. It’s where a lot of our tax dollars go. In these days of shrinking budgets and lower tax receipts, cloud computing offers a great opportunity to create a more effective and responsive government.”

Google says that governments are already widely using its software, pointing to customers such as the cities of Los Angeles and Orlando as well as state governments in Kansas and New Mexico. They point to the simplicity and ease-of-use in their features as a major selling point, particularly for cash-strapped governments trying to streamline IT and reduce its cost.

Google will also store mail and calendar data for these customers on United States-based separate servers as an additional security measure. They will be seeking similar certification for their Google Chrome browser.