SEATTLE Google Inc didn't get the chance to compete for the largest federal government "cloud computing" deal yet announced, according to the Web firm, adding to its concerns that government agencies are unfairly favoring rival Microsoft Corp.
Early on Wednesday, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it was moving 120,000 of its employees onto email, Web conferencing and messaging systems provided over the Internet by Microsoft, generally referred to as "cloud computing."
The move is the largest of its kind by a federal agency and the first by a cabinet-level department in a growing area that is hotly contested by Microsoft -- which has long provided technology to local and national governments -- and emerging competitor Google, which offers cheaper but less well-known online alternatives.
The issue of technology procurement by U.S. government agencies has heated up recently. Last month, Google sued the U.S. government for excluding its products from being considered for a 5-year contract worth about $59 million to upgrade the Interior Department's email system.
Government agencies, like many companies, are attracted by cloud computing as it generally saves them money on maintaining a computer network as data is stored remotely, and it means users can access systems from more or less anywhere.
Microsoft, as the incumbent provider, tends to win most government technology contracts in this area, but Google has recently won high-profile jobs to provide a version of its online Google Apps service to the U.S. General Services Administration, the state of Wyoming and the city of Los Angeles.
The USDA said in a statement on Wednesday its move to the cloud was part of a deal signed in May with computer-maker Dell Inc to provide online services from Microsoft.
The government agency, which oversees the U.S. farming, agriculture and food industries, said it had been working with Microsoft and Dell for the past six months on the project, which it said would cut costs and improve efficiency.
Google, which claims its services save more money than Microsoft, and that its presence in a bidding situation usually means lower prices regardless of who wins, said it had no opportunity to formally bid on the contract at any point.
"We were not given the opportunity to bid for USDA's business," said a Google spokesman. "When there has been a full and open competition, customers have chosen Google Apps, and taxpayers are saving millions of dollars."
Microsoft and the USDA did not immediately return calls seeking comment.