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AWS Public Sector Symposium: Why the Government Needs Public Cloud

By Peter Adams on June 29, 2015
AWS PubSec Sympsium
We just wrapped up attending the AWS Government, Education, and Nonprofits Symposium that was held last week in Washington D.C. The symposium was a chance for AWS to showcase how its public cloud is impacting the 1,700 federal agencies, 4,500 educational institutions, and 17,000 nonprofit organizations that comprise the public sector.

Why does cloud matter in public sector?

Teresa Carlson, AWS’s VP in charge of Worldwide Public Sector, offered a compelling portrait of AWS efforts in the public sector, which have been growing over 100% YoY, during the symposium’s keynote on Thursday. But what we found most intriguing about her speech were the reasons she offered towards her claim that public cloud is the the right long-term match for the public sector. Let’s take a closer look at her argument.

New skills

Teresa argued that public cloud is delivering a whole new set of skills to the public sector. There were numerous presentations at the symposium about how government agencies are using the public cloud as a forcing mechanism to develop real DevOps capabilities that simply didn’t exist in the data center world. In fact, the skill development went far beyond technical, with agencies also learning how to plan and operate missions that can be deployed in month and not years.

Continuous refresh

We recently visited a cloud team at a government agency, and I was struck by how dated the equipment in their conference room was. On one hand, it appeared to be a good thing—an indication that money was being spent elsewhere—but in the back of my mind, I worried that maybe the data center looked like this too. That’s why the second plank of Teresa’s argument really resonated with me—that public cloud offers a “continual technology refresh” cycle to the public sector.

In light of just how hard it is for the government to procure products and services, the public cloud must seem like a breath of fresh air. New versions of hardware just show up, often times on a cost-neutral basis. Whole new categories of infrastructure, platform and software services can easily be added into the mix with the push of a button.

Of course, this programatic access is not without its own consequences when it comes to maintaining fiscal/budgetary control and IT governance—but that’s what services like Cloudability are for.

Cost savings

Comparing the total cost of ownership of public cloud versus owned and operated data centers has been a favorite pastime of cloud vendors and IT managers ever since AWS launched EC2 back in 2006. Sadly, the debate continues to rage. Teresa argued that public cloud is more cost effective for the public sector, but others disagree. At Cloudability, we think the answer lies somewhere closer to public cloud. There are very clear cases when public cloud is more cost effective than running your own data centers. We see this everyday across our customer base.

There are theoretical cases in which public cloud could be more expensive than buying new physical infrastructure. I say theoretical because oftentimes the argument is just that—the analysis rarely ever takes into account all the associated staffing and contingency costs of running your own data center.

For example, the difference in cost for achieving a Recovery Time Objective of one hour when a disaster renders a data center inoperable is significant. In AWS, you simply spin up in another AZ/region on a cost neutral basis. When running your own data centers you need to have an extra one stocked with hardware waiting in the wings.This sort of cost hacking is going to be critical for public sector organizations who need to stretch their budgets to the max.

Making the world a better place

The final piece of the argument for public cloud in the public sector was that public cloud can make the world a better place. It’s a lofty and soft argument, but when you look at programs such as AWS Public Data Sets, you get a glimpse at how the public cloud is leveling access to data and the infrastructure to work with it.

Will this unlock value human potential and end suffering? We will have to wait and see on that, but in the meantime, there are many small organizations that are able to undertake ambitious missions because the access and cost hurdles have been removed by the public cloud on-demand model.

On a macro level the public cloud and AWS seem like a great match for the public sector, but as we know, execution is often slow and difficult. That said, we at Cloudability are really excited to bring the cost management and governance learnings that we have accumulated through working with thousands of leading edge private sector companies to bear on the public sector cloud adoption.

Being in the know feels great