The Past, Present, and Future of the AWS GovCloud

Cloud computing has helped to usher in an unprecedented era of opportunity for innovation in government. One example is from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC BioSense 2.0 program is tasked to provide awareness for all health-related threats and support responses across state, local and federal government.

The CDC wanted to avoid purchasing expensive hardware and software. To reduce costs, and leverage hardware and software on-demand, the CDC turned to a pay-per-use cloud model. This has also facilitated on demand usage, and assured compliance and world-class security practices.

The CDC’s success with cloud computing depended on having the confidence that their cloud solution would assure the complex regulatory requirements to protect data and information sharing.

That’s why Amazon Web Services (AWS) has created the AWS GovCloud, which allows agencies to move sensitive workloads and still achieve complex regulatory and compliance requirements for cloud deployment. AWS helps government agencies fully leverage the opportunities of the cloud, especially the ability to create a shared pool of resources and use economies of scale for cost savings.

This week, AWS GovCloud was on display at the AWS Government, Education, and Nonprofits Symposium in Washington, D.C. One of the largest public sector cloud events on the East Coast, the two and a half day symposium brought together government, education, non-profit and technical professionals looking to understand how to leverage the AWS cloud.

I had the chance to sit in on the session AWS GovCloud Fundamentals: Past, Present, and Future. The session featured a presentation by C.J. Moses, general manager of government cloud solutions at AWS. Moses shared some insights on the cloud and insights on Amazon’s GovCloud offering.

“GovCloud came right out off what many Amazon products come out of, and that is customer need,” said Moses. “Our customers were telling us that they needed a cloud capability, a region if you will, of the cloud that is a gated community.”

Moses explained that all AWS administration, both logistical and physical, is limited to persons within the United States. Also, all AWS GovCloud account holders are limited to U.S. persons, and all data is stored in the U.S., hosted in various regions. This assures high durability and elasticity.

“Isolated AWS regions are designed to allow U.S. government agencies and customers to move more sensitive workloads into the cloud by addressing their specific regulatory and compliance needs,” said Moses. “[GovCloud] is built for controlled unclassified information, classified, expert control, privacy, and other more sensitive data workloads.”

Moses shared some insights on the benefits of GovCloud:

  1. Meets federal standards for security and privacy controls incoming FedRAMP and International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).
  2. Provides physical network machine and data isolation: only approved AWS US persons have administrator access to restricted areas on networks and systems.
  3. Isolates customer credentials separate from and other regions.
  4. Complies with FIPS 1402 validated hardware and cryptographic services for VPN’s and API end-points.
  5. Retains all customer workloads and data maintained in the continental United States.
  6. Assures all account holders are US persons or organizations not banned for restricted handling from ITAR data by the federal government.

These benefits help government agencies have the confidence they need to adopt cloud and meet complex regulatory requirements. “Essentially GovCloud comes down to its name of ‘gov,’ but it also has companies who have regulations needs in the government space,” said Moses. This could include those who engage with U.S. government contracts, workloads with direct or indirect ties to government, or U.S. companies with unique IT regulatory requirements.

A Growing User Base

By providing a system that was designed for government by government, AWS has seen extensive growth since its launch in 2006.

“Each and every one of the things we have added have been based on customer feedback, in order for you to be able to grow,” said Moses. And this growth does not just benefit customers in terms of services; it also helps Amazon reduce prices for users.

“Since 2006, we’ve had 43 price reductions across AWS,” said Moses. “The idea here is that we have the virtuous cycle. Our model is that is we are willing to invest our money into an environment such as GovCloud to improve our efficiency in doing your business, and that efficiency gain comes from us by the scale of users.”

The ability to grow in scale allows AWS cloud to re-invest earnings and bring more innovation to government customers. “We are looking long-term, it’s all about building and maintain the customer’s trust,” said Moses.

How to Get Started with GovCloud

Getting started with any cloud initiative is a challenge. Organizations must first start by selecting a clear organizational problem to solve, and communicating the changes across a team.

“One of the easiest use cases is if you are starting a brand new app, if you are starting from scratch, [because] you don’t have to deal with the legacy issues,” said Moses.

In a recent report, Amazon lists several best practices on using AWS GovCloud. One in particular that stood out? “Design for failure and nothing will fail.”

“Assume that your hardware will fail. Assume that outages will occur. Assume that some disaster will strike your application. Assume that you will be slammed with more than the expected number of requests per second some day. Assume that with time your application software will fail too. By being a pessimist, you end up thinking about recovery strategies during design time, which helps in designing an overall system better,” said the report.

“If you realize that things fail over time and incorporate that thinking into your architecture and build mechanisms to handle that failure before disaster strikes to deal with a scalable infrastructure, you will end up creating a fault-tolerant architecture that is optimized for the cloud.”

Amazon’s GovCloud holds great promise for government, and is letting agencies adopt a solution that can help them deploy cloud with confidence they are compliant with complex government regulations.

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