Cisco Systems recently announced a service offering dubbed Classified Network Support that is targeted to government entities — particularly those at the federal level — that operate highly sensitive networks and handle equally sensitive data. The goal of the offering is to create a secure environment in which such entities can resolve IT-related problems much faster.

"When a vendor such as Cisco troubleshoots an issue, we need to share information with the customer. We'll want to open up a WebEx session, so that we can see the issue live," said Jesse Reed, director of advanced services in Cisco's public-sector service team. "Engineers are conditioned these days to have the information they need at their fingertips, in order to be able to troubleshoot complex problems."

But that's easier said than done when dealing with a government entity, Reed said.

"The first thing that the customer says in response when we request the information is that, at a minimum they have to sanitize it and get it reviewed by security in order to be able to release it," he said. "That often creates a significant delay."

In fact, it can take 24 hours or more for a service technician to resolve an issue when clearances aren't already in place, which is a lifetime in the government sector. But that timeframe can be reduced dramatically via Cisco's CNS service offering, according to Reed.

"We are able to support them at the classification level of their network, which means we can immediately exchange information with the customer when a problem occurs," he said.

To support the effort, Cisco established a 7,200 square-foot-facility that houses IT professionals who are dedicated to the CNS offering.

"This is a standalone facility," Reed said. "We have security officers who do nothing more than process contracts and personnel clearances, in order to provide this environment to our customers."

But that's not all, according to Reed. Another big part of the environment is the intellectual capital that Cisco possesses — both in the government space and in IT — that lets customers benefit from troubleshooting that previously had been performed on similar issues at other customers.

"One example would be the tools that allow for a decode of a file," Reed said. "Let's say that a customer has a problem with a Cisco device, and it dumps a file that is binary in format. In the old way, our customer would be unable to send us that file, because it's classified, and they don't know what's inside it to determine whether it can be released.

"In this environment, the customer can send it to us, because they're sending it to us at the same level of classification. Then, inside this classified space, we can run the same tools on that file that other customers that are out in the open … are able to receive from Cisco."

Three levels of support are available, depending on the sensitivity of the information the customer is handling. Customers that subscribe to the full capabilities of CNS can cut resolution time for severity 1 and 2 cases — which essentially are network-down situations — from 24 hours to 4, Reed said. The offering is priced based on the volume of service calls that are anticipated from the customer.

"This is all about the ability to very quickly exchange information, without those concerns or barriers at the onset, to allow that troubleshooting to move forward very swiftly," Reed said.