For years, Salesforce.com has been well-chronicled for customizing its cloudware products and services to fit the needs of specific vertical markets, most notably retail, professional services, health care and financial services.
Now the Web services giant is moving headlong into the government sector.
Salesforce April 25 flipped the "on" switch for its Government Cloud, a dedicated, multitenant service that ostensibly will enable U.S. federal, state and local agencies to deploy their own services via cloud subscription but still maintain compliance with Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) requirements.
The San Francisco-based company, whose government division is now headed by former U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra, made the announcement at the Cloudforce DC 2012 conference in Washington, D.C. Kundra was the first-ever official CIO for the United States, serving under President Barack Obama from March 2009 to August 2011.
The Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002 led to the FISMA Implementation Project in January 2003, which produced several key security standards and guidelines required by congressional legislation. As a result, all levels of the U.S. government are required to evaluate their IT systems and security processes and examine new-generation methodology to keep their systems working at optimum levels.
Knowing the financial crunch the public sector has suffered in recent years, Salesforce has stepped up its development of cloud services that the government can use and has packaged them into the Government Cloud. These are being positioned as both an alternative and as adjunct services to legacy data centers.
'Captive to Legacy IT'
"Government is still largely captive to legacy IT," Salesforce Senior Vice President of Global Public Policy Dan Burton told eWEEK. "Salesforce wants to bridge this chasm between legacy IT that government is using on a daily basis with the social, mobile and open cloud applications that citizens have come to expect."
Burton outlined three segments within this initiative, the first being a "dedicated multitenant government 'instance' in which government agencies frozen with fear about budgets and aging IT infrastructure can make the leap to the new social era of enterprise cloud computing."
This is a cloud computing platform, custom built with the choice of applications that a particular agency requires, that works like a social network in which citizens interact with government employees and systems to get answers to questions and projects completed, Burton said.
"There's no IT infrastructure to buy, no data centers to build, no maintenance or upgrade fees to pay, just citizen access to government services anytime, anywhere, at Internet scale," Burton said.
These customized government packages are still in the development stage now but will become available in the third quarter of this year, Burton said.
The second segment is an AppExchange for Government, which provides a marketplace in which agencies can find, try and deploy cloud apps for the public sector.
AppExchange for Government already has about 60 apps in it, Burton said. This is designed to be a one-stop shop for everything from help desks and asset management to program and project management to constituent relations and other functions, Burton said.
What Apps Are Now Available
Currently available apps include BasicGov, which allows cities, counties, state governments and government agencies to streamline permitting and inspections, code enforcement, planning, licensing and citizen access; DocuSign, an e-signature application built on Force.com that helps organizations streamline workflows to accelerate transactions; and SchoolForce, which features modules such as attendance, behavior, homework, student records and grade book, as well as collaboration and document management.
Finally, both of these segments will be supported by a Government Partner Accelerator Program, which will train about 1,000 integrators to sell government IT on these cloud packages.
Burton said the government "instance" -- the foundation of this whole initiative -- will be built on the company's standard multitenant infrastructure, which enables agencies to scale their storage and services quickly and obtain automatic upgrades.
The cloud package will provide separate application and database servers supporting government customers, housed within Salesforce's U.S. production data centers. Using secure software access controls, government data will be logically separated on the government instance, meaning an agency's data will reside in common databases along with other government customers, Burton said.
Security will be the No. 1 question on the minds of potential customers. A typical Salesforce government package will offer support for existing security and privacy standards and certifications, including FISMA, SSAE 16 (formerly SAS 70), ISO 27001, PCI-DSS Level 1, Safe Harbor and TRUSTe, Burton said.
Chris Preimesberger is Editor for Features and Analysis at eWEEK. Twitter: @editingwhiz