Computing giant Dell is making a major new push into the government sector, today announcing a comprehensive cloud offering geared for federal agencies.
The Dell Cloud for U.S. Government offers federal CIOs a range of technologies provided through a usage-based, cloud-delivery model, ranging from software applications up through platform and infrastructure services.
Chief among the selling points for federal government customers who are still finding their way in cloud computing is a level of flexibility and customization that can tailor a deployment to an agency's security expectations and management capacity. That means agency CIOs will be able to tap Dell for a dedicated, on-premises cloud, or opt to place certain applications in a shared environment that's managed remotely.
"It basically is, in a nutshell, a dedicated and a multitenant cloud environment that's going to offer several very unique attributes," says Jeff Lush, CTO of Dell Services Federal Government, who describes the offering as "location-neutral."
"It doesn't matter where you put it--you can host it, we can host it, put it in the back of a Humvee," Lush says.
The unveiling of Dell's government cloud comes at a time of keen interest in cloud computing among federal IT decision makers, thanks in part to a series of memos and directives from the White House encouraging steps to modernize the government technology apparatus, as well as the ongoing budget pressures agencies are facing.
Feds Begin to Drift to the Cloud
The government's shift to the cloud remains very much a work in progress, however, and agency CIOs so far have been more willing to move basic applications like email to the cloud than they have more elaborate operations like business processes and infrastructure.
Many federal CIOs have identified security worries as a major barrier to moving their agency to the cloud, a concern that Dell is addressing with what Lush calls a "built-in compliance framework," comprised of nearly 300 controls stipulated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for various levels of security tailored to the sensitivity of the information in a particular environment.
While Dell is dropping news of its government cloud offering today, the company doesn't except agency deployments of its private cloud to be operational until around mid-summer. Then the multi-tenant solution likely won't be available until the end of this year or early next, when it is expected to receive security certification under the FedRAMP program, according to Lush.
FedRAMP, shorthand for the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, is a government-wide security standard for cloud-service providers intended create uniform baseline requirements across federal agencies, and to spare contractors from having to meet different certification requirements for each agency from which they're seeking a contract.
Dell is looking to match that spirit of uniformity with the stock menu of compliance features it is including to help federal customers meet the criteria for various cloud deployments set by NIST. Then in addition to NIST compliance, Dell's cloud offers an array of other tools that promise to help automate the various security and operational approvals that federal IT leaders have to navigate, including FISMA, DIACAP, HIPAA and others.
"All documentation templates are repeatable," says Lush.
Thanks in large part to that repeatability, Dell envisions that federal agencies will be able to get a basic cloud deployment up and running within 30 days.
With the availability of the dedicated, private cloud this summer, and the shared, multitenant cloud some months later, Dell anticipates a comprehensive cloud solution that can be tailored to an agency CIO's specifications.
Federal CIOs Comfortable On-Premises, But May Branch Out
As a practical matter, some federal CIOs are more comfortable with a dedicated, on-premises private cloud as their first venture into cloud computing, according to Lush. But he believes that after taking that first step, many CIO can be expected to begin to shift some relatively nonsensitive applications to a remotely managed, multi-tenant environment, which could offer greater agility, less of a management headache and, quite often, lower costs.
"They have a lot of applications and a lot of services -- either it's separation anxiety, or it's the latency -- whatever the variable is," Lush says of CIOs' hesitancy concerning the multi-tenant model. "The dedicated cloud is a great step for the multi-tenant cloud."
"With our solution they'll have full freedom to do whatever is they choose to do," he adds.
That flexibility includes several features central to the cloud-computing model, including usage-based pricing, the ability to scale a deployment up or down to meet an agency's needs and self-service management portals, among others.
Included in Dell's forthcoming cloud offering will be a substantial services component, through which members of the company's federal team, which numbers more than 2,000 employees, will help agencies set up and manage their cloud deployments.
"Dell's got a substantial business within the federal government, but our customer is changing," Lush says. "When the customer moves, we move, and the customer is moving to the integrated solutions. Call it cloud today. Call it automated IT infrastructure tomorrow. At the end of the day, it's doing the same thing."
Kenneth Corbin is a Washington, D.C.-based writer who covers government and regulatory issues for CIO.com. Follow Kenneth on Twitter @kecorb. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.