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Amazon Web Services Just Opened a New Cloud for the U.S. Government

November 13, 2018, 12:30 AM UTC

Amazon Web Services has opened a new region of interconnected data centers specifically for the U.S. government and its various contractors.

Amazon’s cloud computing arm said Monday that its so-called GovCloud region is now operating live in an unspecified area on the East Coast. The new government cloud region comes seven years after Amazon’s first West Coast government cloud region debuted in 2011.

Unlike traditional data centers, cloud computing and big Internet companies like Microsoft and Facebook typically operate clusters of interconnected data centers that essentially act as one big facility.

Teresa Carlson, AWS vice president of the worldwide public sector, said that one of the reasons the company built a new government cloud was to let government agencies and their third-party contractors maintain duplicate copies of their data and apps. In the case that a problem occurs in one facility, the other data center facility can pick up the slack.

Having a second data center region will also reduce the latency, or delays, that might occur when East Coast federal agencies have to use Amazon’s cloud services from the West Coast, Carlson explained. She declined to say where the facilities are physically located, citing security reasons.

Amazon’s opening of a new government cloud highlights the efforts of big tech companies to score big federal contracts as the government attempts to modernize to newer IT technologies. For instance, Amazon built the CIA its own separate cloud data center region, and is in the process of bidding against companies like Oracle and Microsoft for a $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud contract with the Pentagon.

Carlson said that the new government cloud data center region is separate from Amazon’s bidding on the JEDI contract.

Some of Amazon’s competitors in selling on-demand computing resources to the federal government include Microsoft, IBM, and Google, said Adelaide O’Brien, International Data Corporation’s research director of government digital transformation strategies.

Although Amazon’s government cloud business is likely to be much smaller compared to its enterprise cloud business, Carlson said Amazon is building more government data center facilities to keep up with demand. She said the government cloud business has a compound annual growth rate of 185%, but declined to say from what number.

When Carlson first began pitching Amazon Web Services back in 2010 and 2011, she said that federal employees were unfamiliar with the online retail giant’s information technology business.

“Oh, you want to talk about books?” Carlson said federal workers would ask her.

No so anymore. “There is not anyone out there today that does not know what cloud computing is,” Carlson said in regards to how the service has become more mainstream with businesses and government agencies.

Carlson also echoed recent comments made by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who said that Amazon and his Blue Origin rocket company would continue pursuing Pentagon contracts, regardless if it upsets employees or critics who don’t want the tech giant to supply the U.S. military with war-fighting or surveillance technologies.

“They got to make sure that when they commit to you, you commit to them,” Carlson said of supplying the U.S. military with unspecified technologies.

As for the idea that the government should potentially regulate the use of artificial intelligence technologies, because the technologies could lead to unforeseen consequences, Carlson believes that too much regulation could stifle the tech industry from innovating. It’s a contrast to Microsoft President Brad Smith, who has urged the government to regulate the use of facial-recognition technology and that both the public and private sector should develop standards around how to use the tech.

Amazon executives have previously said that the government should specify the regulation’s guidelines, and that the company would follow.

“I would say any time you’re trying to regulate something, we really push back on that,” Carlson said. “Because history has taught us that any time you try to regulate, you just might as well stomp it out, because it kind of stagnates everything.”