Amazon Web Services Sharpens Focus on Public Sector

WASHINGTON -- Amazon may have risen to prominence in the cloud computing market on the strength of its business-to-business channel, but the Web giant is increasingly setting its sights on the public sector, targeting government agencies, educational institutions and nonprofit organizations with its Amazon Web Services platform.

Amazon is notably tight-lipped about the financial details of its business lines, but at a conference yesterday, the company offered some insight into the growth of its public-sector cloud offerings.

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To date, AWS has won contracts with more than 800 government agencies, more than 3,000 educational institutions, and more than 10,000 nonprofit organizations. It's the first time the company has broken out a customer count in the nonprofit sector.

Teresa Carlson, vice president of AWS's worldwide public-sector operation, points to a constellation of factors -- including government mandates, cost pressures and broader acceptance of the cloud model -- indicating that the public sector can no longer be a sidelight to Amazon's enterprise cloud business.

But catering to government and other tightly regulated sectors puts a premium on issues such as security and compliance, Carlson points out, noting the work Amazon has done to win certifications such as FedRAMP and the various levels of "authorization to operate," or ATO, within the defense community.

"Everything we talk about should have relevancy to our public-sector customers," Carlson says. "What's important to you is important to us, and we understand that you cannot do your work efforts without ensuring compliance and security across your enterprise."

AWS Marketplace Now Covers Education, Research

Central to Amazon's effort to grow its cloud business is the AWS marketplace, which Carlson describes as "very much like Amazon.com for software tools" in the way that listings are organized and available for purchase.

That marketplace, with more than 1,500 applications available, expanded yesterday as Amazon rolled out a new category -- education and research -- for software tools specific to those sectors. "We're rallying the teams to put their solutions up on the marketplace," Carlson says.

Just a day earlier, the CIO of the CIA, which is in the midst of a transition to AWS, called on vendors and developers to use the Amazon platform to build applications that could serve the intelligence community.

Public sector interest in the cloud has been building for years and comes amid an enthusiasm at the Office of Management and Budget for technology that can make federal agencies more agile and efficient, lower costs, and redirect scarce human resources back toward the mission of the enterprise and away from maintaining legacy systems.

Amazon and a host of other cloud players see a fertile market in the federal government, the nation's largest single buyer of IT, as it (slowly) works its way into the cloud.

But the cloud is only one of several capital-letter priorities that sit on the government's IT agenda. Among other things, agencies have been tasked with pushing more of their data onto the open Web in a machine-readable format in hopes of spurring new research and application development.

[ Analysis: Government Eager (But Struggling) to Make Data Available ][ More: To Tap Big Data, Federal IT Must Partner With Tech Industry ]

Amazon wants to play there, too. Carlson envisions the AWS marketplace as a catalog for big research data sets, particularly in the new vertical, allowing scientists and developers to build on each other's work.

"We can put all those open data sets up there. We're beginning to be the place to go to crowdsource data sets and take advantage of that for research, for education, for whatever you're doing," she says. "You're going to continue to see this grow ... and we're going to continue to add more categories that make sense for our customers in the worldwide public sector space."

Kenneth Corbin is a Washington, D.C.-based writer who covers government and regulatory issues for CIO.com. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter (@CIOonline), Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.

Read more about cloud computing in CIO's Cloud Computing Drilldown.

This story, "Amazon Web Services Sharpens Focus on Public Sector" was originally published by CIO .

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