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Salesforce.com creates cloud network for governments

Albert McKeon

Aiming to tap a large, slumbering market, Salesforce.com has created a new suite of cloud social network products designed for government.

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Available later this year, Government Cloud will offer a dedicated cloud infrastructure to all levels of the U.S. government. Starting Wednesday, the company will also open a marketplace featuring mobile and Web applications tailored for government functions. The offering meets the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) requirements.

Vivek Kundra, the recently hired vice president of emerging technologies at Salesforce.com, announced the new offerings Wednesday at the company’s Cloudforce conference in Washington.

Kundra is no stranger to cloud computing and government, having served President Barack Obama as the first U.S. chief information officer last year. At the time, he advocated pushing the public sector into the cloud.

Salesforce.com has carved a niche in the private sector with its CRM, sales and collaboration software for businesses.

To meet FISMA requirements, Salesforce.com tested Government Cloud across several government agencies and continues to work with them to ensure protection, according to Dan Burton, the company’s vice president of global public policy.

Information from Salesforce.com’s CRM suites, for instance, is also secure, but what differentiates Government Cloud from the company’s other products is that these applications and data will be kept on servers to be shared with only government customers, he said.

Cloud social networks: New opportunities 
It remains to be seen how many public agencies will use Government Cloud, but Burton said many of the company’s government partners have expressed interest in making the most of cloud social media and mobile technologies.

“Suppose that all government projects came in under time and under budget. Would people still be satisfied? No. Because they still couldn’t deliver the IT services that [people] take advantage of in everyday life,” Burton said in an interview.

While people use Facebook, Twitter and other channels to socialize and conduct business, government agencies often run into security and privacy concerns and are disconnected from the public, Burton said.

Government Cloud would allow, for instance, the mayor of a city to interact in a social network with citizens, Burton said. Or, for example, a municipal employee could answer citizens’ questions about a construction project, by posting the building permit as a response with an app, offered through Salesforce.com’s market, called BasicGov.

The secure and dedicated cloud infrastructure will be available by summer.

Governments are always looking to provide the most popular and easy-to-use constituent services at the lowest cost, so it makes sense for Salesforce.com to take a shot at creating a cloud for the public sector, said Denis Pombriant, founder and analyst of Beagle Research Group in Stoughton, Mass.

Cloud infrastructure cuts IT costs
Moving to the cloud would cost far less than operating and maintaining the bulky IT infrastructure governments use now, Pombriant said. The government has made strides in offering the electronic filing of tax returns and online motor vehicle registration, but those services require space and cost money, he said.

The cost to use Government Cloud will depend upon which program is used, how much data is stored and how it is deployed, said Burton, who didn’t provide a range of prices but said a Salesforce.com cloud service starts as low as $5 a month.

Salesforce.com also launched today an app exchange for governments. Sixty apps -- including one that tracks student performance and another that focuses on economic development -- are available, and more will be added.

“The icing on the cake is being able to have those ready-made applications,” Pombriant said. “That’s a big leg up on what government does.”

Andrea Di Maio, an analyst at Stamford, Conn., research group Gartner Inc. who studies the public sector and e-solutions, suspects that Kundra, who started his new role at Salesforce.com in January, influenced the company to create a cloud infrastructure that is compliant with the federal government.

A secure service such as Government Cloud seems like a worthy pursuit for Salesforce.com considering that the General Services Administration is close to issuing a series of blanket purchase agreements for cloud-based email and collaboration software, Di Maio said.

“Presumably, this will trigger a wave of interest for cloud-based solutions, and Salesforce wants to be ready for this,” Di Maio wrote in an email. “Of course, there is always a difference between the announcement of future availability and what will actually be delivered.”

Di Maio sees the battle of government clouds pitting Microsoft against Google for email services. But the next applications the government will consider for cloud deployment will be CRM and ERP-like, so Salesforce.com “is strengthening its position,” he said.

“Of course, Oracle and SAP (as well as Microsoft) won’t stand still,” Di Maio added.

Salesforce.com will also this year start a free program that will train 1,000 programmers from small businesses to deploy the new IT for governments.


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