Why We’re Excited About Amazon’s Government Cloud

Amazon announced the Amazon Web Services GovCloud today. This means that government agencies and programs can benefit from Amazon Web Services without having to fret about the myriad security and compliance issues that have been keeping them back. We’re really excited about this for a few reasons:

Fewer Excuses

Amazon has waded through the ocean of alphabet soup that have kept cautious government agencies from adopting cloud technology. I thought I was cool (probably not the right word) for knowing what FIMSA and SAS-70 were, but Amazon says they’re FIMSA and SAS-70 compliant as well as covering “ISO 27001, FIPS 140-2 compliant end points, and PCI DSS Level 1. AWS also provides an environment that enables agencies to comply with HIPAA regulations.”

IT providers have been able to use this list of certifications and requirements to scare agencies and programs into using absurd amounts tax dollars to pay for unnecessary servers, storage, and bandwidth. Meanwhile, the rest of the market has moved effortlessly to the cloud, and while it hasn’t been perfect, countless services and apps have been built that would have been financially prohibitive before. Twitter wouldn’t exist without Amazon Web Services.

Recovery.gov is already moving to Amazon’s GovCloud, and Vivek Kundra estimates that the move will save $750,000 each year. Imagine that kind of savings across thousands of government websites.

It’s worth noting that GovCloud’s pricing is on par with Amazon’s normal AWS pricing. Kudos to Amazon for not extracting rents from its government clients.

More Experimentation

The .gov Reform Effort is currently reassesing how the government approaches the web. Part of the effort includes “a comprehensive review of federal websites to eliminate those that are duplicative and outdated and identify opportunities to strengthen and coordinate content across agencies.” That is, there’s a push to create efficiencies by getting rid of duplicative websites and consolidating government resources.

Having worked with USA.gov for the past three years, I’m convinced that this effort is the right thing to do. Citizens shouldn’t have to know if they should look to the FDA, USDA, or CDC for information on food recalls. They should have a single easy-to-remember source for the information they need most. USA.gov should be that source.

That said, the government is vastly complex, and it will be impossible to develop a single site that can be all things to all people. This is why Amazon’s GovCloud (and hopefully more government-friendly cloud services) is so important. While government sites are consolidated, it’s important that agencies and programs to continue to experiment with ways to use the Internet to achieve their goals and reach their audiences. Cloud computing will allow agencies and programs to set up quick projects, make them work, or shut them down—quickly, without dealing with a ton of red tape.

This is what’s most exciting. 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. 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.

We ♥ Amazon Web Services

We developed GovClicks.us last month as a proof of concept to show off what can be done with 1.USA.gov data. On the back end, it ingests data from all the clicks on 1.USA.gov links each day, sorts them, ranks them by number of clicks, and then makes that data available in JSON and CSV files. On the front end, it looks awesome, and it’s turned out to be a really useful tool for research.

GovClicks took us about 2 weeks to build from scratch, amid other projects. It’s exciting to know that if USA.gov ever wanted to port GovClicks into USA.gov, it could do so seamlessly without breaking any laws.

Let me know if you want to talk about getting set up on Amazon’s GovCloud. I’m at jed@measuredvoice.com.

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