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) --


(IBM) - Get International Business Machines Corporation Report

is taking a leap forward in

cloud security

after clinching a deal to design a major test system for the U.S. Air Force.

The 10-month test project aims to build a cloud computing system capable of protecting sensitive data that can also be shared across different agencies. U.S. Air Force personnel will work closely with IBM on the cloud project, which will be hosted by the technology giant.

"This is an effort to give them headlights, to let them know what the forward direction is," said Robert Ames, chief technology officer of IBM's federal division. "It's going to take us in a very strong direction."

Security and loss of data control are often cited as the biggest cloud issues by enterprises, and the U.S. government has even more stringent security requirements.

Ames told


that the cloud project will use sensors to monitor traffic on Air Force IT networks as well as deploy a new IBM technology called Trusted Virtual Domains.

"This is basically inserting a security layer between two virtual servers so that they can't contaminate each other," he said. The cloud will also push out security updates across the Air Force network whenever cyber threats are sensed, added Ames.

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IBM, however, is not the first big-name tech company to focus on

cloud security


Last year online retailer


(AMZN) - Get, Inc. Report

attempted to

allay users' fears

about sending data into the cloud by offering VPN-based access to its services. Networking giant


(CSCO) - Get Cisco Systems, Inc. Report

has also been ramping up its efforts in this space, throwing down $183 million for cloud security specialist


last October.

More recently, Cisco

teamed up

with service provider



to offer private clouds geared towards the enterprise. Companies like


(T) - Get AT&T Inc. Report



(VMW) - Get VMware, Inc. Class A Report

are also

pushing security

as a major selling point of cloud technology, having recently


a major



Cloud services

, which offer compute power and storage via the Internet, are fast becoming one of the tech sector's hottest technologies, thanks in no small part to the IT spending slowdown. Most of tech's biggest names, like


(MSFT) - Get Microsoft Corporation Report

, are now

touting cloud services

as a way for firms to

avoid the upfront costs

of hardware and software.

Despite plenty of hype, cloud computing is still its infancy. Stymied by vendor


and users' reluctance to relinquish control of their data, the technology is nowhere near widespread adoption.

The times, though, may be changing.

Last month



chose IBM for a major overhaul of its IT infrastructure, which was described as the world's

largest deployment

of cloud computing.

Big Blue nonetheless faces stiff competition in the federal IT space. Rival


(HPQ) - Get HP Inc. Report

already works with the

Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA)

on cloud computing initiatives.

-- Reported by James Rogers in New York

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