Just how innovative will the federal government’s future cloud computing efforts be?
The answer depends on the government’s ability to try out new offerings with minimal risk or procurement costs. Also imperative will be agencies’ ability to pay for services on an “on-demand” basis.
Six years into her role as vice president of Amazon Web Services’ Worldwide Public Sector, Teresa Carlson is ensuring government customers can embrace cloud offerings with that nimble approach in mind.
“Where AWS can continue to be a disruptor – and a change agent – is really in continuing to encourage agencies to look for opportunities to acquire cloud through agile acquisition processes,” says Carlson, “so they can consume and absorb cloud computing in a way that allows them to experiment without spending millions and millions of dollars.”
It’s been seven years since the government adopted a cloud-first policy, and according to a GAO report from this past April, 5,000 federal data centers are slated to close by 2019. Yet savings have been slow to materialize.
The key, says Carlson, is for agencies to have the freedom to try offerings, much the same way they would a utility.
That’s where AWS’s nimble approach has been taking center stage with government customers – in 2011, with the launch of AWS’s GovCloud, an isolated AWS region (in the Northwest) designed to host sensitive data and regulated workloads in the cloud for federal agencies.
To date, GovCloud customers have grown to include NASA, the Department of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense, among many others. In addition, nearly everything GSA’s digital services agency 18F has built for its agency partners has been deployed into AWS, including its platform-as-a-service cloud.gov.
“AWS is, of course, a utility – it’s on-demand and you only pay for what you use,” says Carlson. “I think that is a very important concept for government – to only pay for what they use and what they need and not to overbuy.”
Another important concept for the U.S. government is the ability to absorb price drops, just as it moves from a CapEx to an OpEx business model.
Through the years, Amazon has been known for cutting the prices of its technology offerings – at last count, the company had reached 59 price cuts. In her role, Carlson is passionate about federal agencies being able to absorb those price cuts, just as any commercial entity would.
“The federal government should be able to absorb that innovation, try it, experiment, and only pay for what they use,” says Carlson. “It will help and allow them to move much faster on their missions.”
An increasing number of federal contracts are being written with that flexibility in mind. It’s a shift that Carlson welcomes.
“When you get to the point where you are not really writing an acquisition based on the type of hardware or the exact type of software but you’re putting the requirement out there for what you need, then you absorb cloud very uniquely – and take advantage of that in small ways,” says Carlson.
“The point is to write an open contract for the service you need without a specific dollar amount tagged to it because, again, you want to pay for what you use and shut that off if you don’t need it,” she continues. “The ability to consume and get IT resources when agencies need it allows them to innovate and stay competitive.”
In the midst of that on-demand flexibility, security remains an overarching priority for AWS.
“We here at AWS will continue to be an advocate for government being able to absorb innovation and pay for only what they use – and also be an advocate for ensuring they have the sources they need, when they need it from a security and compliance perspective,” says Carlson. “That means we are committed to meeting and overachieving the security and compliance regimens that are important to the U.S. government.”
This past June, AWS achieved FedRAMP high authorization, a distinction that, in turn, gives agencies the ability to leverage the AWS GovCloud region for highly sensitive workloads, including sensitive patient record, financial data and other controlled unclassified information.
“That region is really growing and we are seeing more and more customers that are coming into the region that are saying they have FedRAMP High workloads – that is really exciting for us,” says Carlson.
The standards that AWS has achieved for cloud – specifically, the ability to pay on-demand, scale globally in minutes, absorb innovation and operate within a secure compliance framework – are all crucial steps to guard against cloud washing, says Carlson.
That definitional standard guides Carlson in helping to lead AWS’s public sector toward future gains. “You will continue to see us work with government to update and modernize acquisition for absorbing innovations, particularly related to cloud computing,” says Carlson.
The priorities, she adds, don’t stop there.
“You will also see us continue to build on our partner ecosystem – we are going to continue to help them ramp on cloud, move their platforms and build new ones to service the U.S. government and our public sector entities,” says Carlson. “It’s exciting and fun, and a ride, for sure, to be a part of this.”