Salesforce.com, already a leading provider of cloud services to the public sector, is doubling down on its government business, unveiling on Wednesday a major initiative to host federal, state and local agencies' computing operations in a multi-tenant cloud environment, along with a new app marketplace and a training program to equip integrators with the skills to help government clients shift to the cloud.
The cornerstone of Saleforce's announcement is a new government cloud, a multi-tenant, dedicated cloud computing environment for public-sector databases and applications.
Modeled after Salesforce's existing multi-tenant architecture, the government cloud will enable agencies and government-approved outside organizations to rapidly scale their deployments as their computing demands grow or shrink, with a particular emphasis on delivering to government clients the social and collaborative features that have already taken a firm hold in the enterprise.
"Today what we see is a social revolution and that social revolution is all about the social enterprise," said Dan Burton, Salesforce's senior vice president for global public policy. "Our whole focus today is to lead the way to the social enterprise."
Salesforce already has a strong foothold in the government market, boasting that more than two-thirds of Cabinet-level agencies and the governments of 80 percent of the states have already deployed the company's cloud services.
Feds Embrace 'Cloud First' Strategy
At the federal level, the Obama administration has taken a number of steps to advance cloud computing ahead of legacy technologies, including a so-called "cloud first" policy, a government-wide initiative directing agencies to prioritize cloud solutions over traditional alternatives as they plan new IT deployments. The architect of the cloud-first policy, Vivek Kundra, the nation's first federal CIO, has since left government to join Salesforce as an executive vice president in January.
In addition to the cloud-first policy, some of Kundra's most notable initiatives centered around cloud computing and working to streamline the federal government's $80 billion IT apparatus, including the launch of Apps.gov, an online marketplace for cloud applications geared for government, and an ambitious initiative to consolidate federal data centers.
Salesforce is including its own gallery of apps with the announcement of its government cloud. The AppExchange for Government, built on Force.com and patterned after the firm's AppExchange for the private sector, will launch with more than 60 applications specifically geared for government entities. Salesforce has allowed some 30 trusted providers to showcase their products on the marketplace, which will offer public-sector clients a mix of free and fee-based applications.
The government cloud instance is slated to launch in the third quarter of this year. The AppExchange for Government marketplace is available immediately.
Cloud Concerns Pass
Pitching cloud computing to government IT managers has not always been an easy sell. Government clients, after all, have stringent security and compliance standards that must be met before new technologies can be deployed within the agency. But Salesforce, like other cloud vendors courting the government market such as Google and Microsoft, has obtained certification for its cloud services under the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), among other security standards.
There are also cultural barriers within many agencies that, as Kundra often noted during his stint as federal CIO, can foster a climate that is resistant to change. So I think that a lot of government agencies are very cautious when it comes to taking risks," Burton said.
But Burton has also declared the cloud computing debate in Washington "over." He argues that the success of the technology in the private sector, and the steps that Salesforce and other vendors have taken to address security and reliability concerns, have gone a long way toward convincing agency CIOs that the agility and infrastructure savings that the cloud offers make it a superior alternative to legacy, on-premises systems. It also doesn't hurt that agencies are facing severe budget pressures and working to meet the White House mandate to look to the cloud first and aggressively scale back their data-center operations.
"I think we have crossed that bridge," Burton said. "The biggest risk that they face is hanging onto legacy systems."
"By moving to the social, mobile, open technologies of cloud computing they're realizing that, gosh, a lot of these trust issues have been addressed," he added.
In addition to the dedicated, multi-tenant government cloud and the associated AppExchange, Salesforce plans to launch a program next month with the goal of training 1,000 integrators to deploy the company's cloud offerings for government clients by the end of the year. Salesforce has scheduled the first training session for the Government Partner Accelerator Program for May 17, with plans to hold classes at its office in Herndon, Va. and offer online instruction.
Kenneth Corbin is a Washington, D.C.-based writer who covers government and regulatory issues for CIO.com.
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