The U.S. Department of Agriculture is ready to go live with Microsoft’s cloud services. In the next four weeks, the agency will move 120,000 users to Microsoft Online services, including e-mail, Web conferencing, document collaboration, and instant messaging.

The USDA said it will be the first cabinet-level agency to move its e-mail and collaboration apps into the cloud. Microsoft will consolidate 21 different messaging and collaboration systems into one. Employees will use Microsoft Exchange Online for messaging and calendaring, SharePoint Online for document collaboration, Office Communications Online for instant messaging, and Office Live Meeting for Web conferencing.

The software giant will house the USDA’s service in a separate, secure facility, where physical access will be limited by biometric access controls. Microsoft recently secured an authorization to operate (ATO) as required by federal security law.

Best online Microsoft MCTS Training, Microsoft MCITP Certification at

The deal is part of a May 2010 contract USDA awarded to Dell for Microsoft Online Services. USDA said it has worked closely with Microsoft and Dell for the past six months on transition plans.

“USDA’s IT modernization will allow us to streamline our operations and help us use taxpayer dollars more efficiently,” USDA chief information officer Chris Smith said in a statement. “With a focused cloud roadmap, we saw a clear opportunity to achieve our cost savings and consolidation goals, and tap into the promise of the cloud.”

The announcement comes about a week after the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) announced that it would move its 17,000 employees onto Google’s hosted Web apps. The transition, which will affect 17 locations around the world, will be administered next year by Unisys, a Google partner.

Microsoft didn’t take the Google-GSA news very well. Thomas Rizzo, senior director of SharePoint at Microsoft, wrote in a blog post that Google cannot meet the requirements of business customers. On Wednesday, Rizzo penned another blog post that said the USDA will “get a world class productivity experience backed by an enterprise class services and support organization that has focused on this business for over 20 years.”

“The USDA requires Microsoft to provide offline access which which we do view as a basic not something vendors can expect somewhere down the line,” Rizzo wrote, a dig at Google.

In October, Microsoft also inked a licensing deal with the city of New York that will consolidate its various licenses into one and provide city officials with access to Microsoft’s cloud-computing features.

UPDATE: Google said Thursday that it was not invited to participate in the bidding process for the USDA contract, suggesting that it might have beaten Microsoft had it been given the chance. “We were not given the opportunity to bid for USDA’s business,” Google said in a statement. “When there has been a full and open competition- as with the General Services Administration, Wyoming, Colorado and Los Angeles- customers have chosen Google Apps, and taxpayers are saving millions of dollars.”