Honing in on the lucrative government market for business applications, Google introduced on Monday Google Apps for Government, featuring its suite of cloud-based business applications equipped with extra security precautions.

The suite, with such applications as Gmail email and Google Calendar, offers US government FISMA (Federal Information Security Management Act) moderate-level certification. Also, government user data is to be maintained on servers segregated from Google's commercial customers. Google officials emphasized that government agencies are acutely concerned with security and that Google Apps is the first cloud platform certified for use by the federal government.

Google is positioning the suite as a solution for all branches of government, emphasising cost savings that could be enjoyed by governments now beset by budget shortfalls. "As we know, the financial pressures on government are enormous, and this is a material cost saving," said Google CEO Eric Schmidt, during a rollout event at Google headquarters.

"The government has an enormous opportunity to leverage the web as a platform," said Dave Girouard, president of Google Enterprise. Governments at all levels are spending billions on IT; cloud computing offers an opportunity to change these dynamics in the next decade, he said.

Available now, Google Apps for Government costs $50 per user per year, the same price as Google Apps Premier Edition. In addition to Gmail and Google Calendar, Google Apps for Government also features Google applications like Docs, Sites, Video, Groups, and Postini. Gmail and Calendar data currently is physically segregated from non-government user data and maintained within the United States. Google plans to segregate the other applications in the suite as well, with that work now in progress.

Google's suite for government will compete with the Microsoft Office suite of applications, Girouard acknowledged. "It's a pleasant side effect," he said.

Cloud computing offers the ability to deliver innovation to government workers at an accelerated rate, said Matt Glotzbach, director of management for Google Enterprise. The company already has been offering its applications to government agencies, Google officials said. "Google isn't a stranger to government," Glotzbach said. The company has more than 100 federal agencies using its applications as well as other governmental agencies at different levels.

Google officials downplayed a recent flare-up pertaining to implementation of its applications by the city of Los Angeles. The company expects the Los Angeles implementation will prove to be a great success for the city and Google, said Girouard. "We're working very closely with them," said Girouard. He emphasised that Los Angeles, as the second-largest city in the country, represents a major undertaking for Google right out of the gate.

At Berkeley Labs, which is part of the US Department of Energy,  the labs have migrated more than 4,000 users to Gmail and expect to see $1.5 million to $2 million in savings over five years, Google officials said. Schmidt said there is an opportunity to use Google's Chrome OS in government.