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Amazon Tries to Take the Lead Among Cloud Providers

Amazon Web Services cloud now complies with more federal government storage and security requirements, company announces.

by / August 17, 2011

Up until now, Google and Microsoft have dominated the lion’s share of headlines about industry competition for government clients in the cloud space.

But Web retailer Amazon could be the cloud frontrunner with its introduction this week of AWS GovCloud, which the company said complies with more federal government regulatory requirements.

For the past five years, Amazon Web Services (AWS) has been offering a range of hosted solutions, including flexible computing power and online storage. The company counts more than 100 government clients, including NASA.

But Amazon is hoping the AWS GovCloud will motivate even more government agencies and contractors to put more sensitive data in the cloud because specific regulatory and compliance requirements will be met.

According to Amazon, prior to GovCloud’s launch, government agencies with data that was required to meet International Traffic in Arms Regulations — for how agencies manage and store defense-related data — couldn’t store the data in the cloud that the federal government required to “be accessible only by U.S. persons.”

The AWS GovCloud is designed to only be accessible by U.S. persons, so Amazon asserted government agencies that use the new cloud service will be able to manage the more heavily regulated data while maintaining federal government regulations.

The new cloud service supports Amazon’s existing AWS security controls and certifications, such as the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) certification and Statement and Auditing Standards (SAS 70), and complies with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations.

The service has piqued interest and reaction among government IT decision-makers and in private industry.

“The AWS GovCloud is designed to meet FISMA Moderate controls and other US federal reqs. Sounds good,” Utah Chief Technology Officer David Fletcher wrote in a Twitter post Wednesday.

Nonfederal government agencies can also use GovCloud as a tool to innovate, wrote Jed Sundwall, president of IT development firm Measured Voice, in a blog posted Wednesday on Govloop.

“We’re getting to a point where government agencies will be able to innovate a bit more quickly, perhaps on par with the private sector,” Sundwall wrote. “There are countless talented and ambitious public servants out there who are held back from building new technologies because of crippling procurement issues. Amazon's announcement is great news for them.”

According to U.S. policy adviser and computer scientist David Gewirtz’s blog post on ZDnet, Amazon's new offering for government will impact agencies both positively and negatively.

“Unlike one agency, which has to reinvent all the same techniques that another agency developed (but won’t share), any new technology Amazon or Google develops for one customer instantly becomes part of the IP offering made available for government computing,” Gewirtz wrote in the post. “So on one hand, the AWS GovCloud initiative is a great idea. On the other hand, maybe not so much.”

Gewirtz said the flip side to moving to the cloud is the concern over cloud outages and failures. And Amazon is no stranger to cloud outages.

In April, Amazon’s EC2 cloud service experienced an outage that resulted in a temporary stop in operations for many websites, according to an earlier report by Government Technology magazine.

Discussion Starter: Do you think Amazon is ahead of its rivals in its cloud offerings to government customers? Let us know in the comments section below.


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Sarah Rich

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. She wrote for for Government Technology magazine from 2010 through 2013.

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