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AWS GovCloud lags behind private sector, but that's changing

In the fast-paced world of public cloud, if AWS is the hare, AWS GovCloud is the tortoise.

GovCloud launched in 2011 to meet stricter regulatory requirements for federal, state and local government.  Since then, AWS has added dozens of new services and nine new private-sector regions across the globe. But AWS GovCloud was slow to incorporate new services, and it existed as only a single West Coast region – until now.

AWS will add a second GovCloud region in the East Coast in 2018. This comes on the heels of the public cloud market leader’s increased efforts to meet regulatory standards and improve feature parity among its commercial and public sector offerings.

And while AWS GovCloud might only serve as a curiosity to the private sector, its continued expansion speaks to a broader trend of the public cloud as an accepted place for workloads of all kinds.

“From a technology perspective, [GovCloud] has grown leaps and bounds, even over the last two or three years,” said Tim Israel, director of cloud engineering at Enlighten IT Consulting, a GovCloud reseller that works primarily with the Department of Defense.

AWS GovCloud has seen 185% compounded annual growth rate since it opened in 2011, according to Amazon. Some of the most important additions include new instance types already available on the general site and the addition of services such as AWS Lambda, which was added in May, more than two years after the service was first rolled out. There’s also a growing list of accreditations for various services that are often more important to regulated IT shops than the services themselves.

The real potential benefit of the new East Coast region — one that regular AWS users have had access to since 2015 — is disaster recovery across regions. Currently, AWS GovCloud users can replicate data across data centers within the region, but that’s probably not enough redundancy for mission-critical applications.

For example, users of the standard AWS public cloud, which incorporates regional failover, saw services remain uninterrupted when the US-East 1 region went down earlier this year. Those lacking cross-region replication couldn’t access applications housed in US-East 1 for up to four hours.

Still, AWS has a long way to go before there’s true parity between the two iterations of its cloud. Only 35 of its 92 services are available on GovCloud. The private cloud that AWS built specifically for the CIA is believed to have an even small feature set. All other U.S. regions offer at least 50 services, and across AWS’ global footprint, only the China region, which is operated by Sinnet, has fewer available services.

According to Amazon, the services available in AWS GovCloud align with the needs of government, as indicated by public sector customers.

AWS GovCloud is also generally more expensive than the commercial version. Comparable compute resources cost more in that region than they do in standard AWS regions; it’s also more expensive to transfer data out of the cloud.

Despite those limitations, AWS GovCloud does have benefits for its targeted audience. It meets certain regulatory standards that other regions do not. It’s also maintained only by U.S. citizens and provides encrypted access that meets federal guidelines.

Unlike the private sector, government agencies have to go through a competitive bidding process that puts roughly two years between when a project’s conception and when the actual purchase is made. And given that two years ago was about the time when enterprises really started to embrace the public cloud, AWS GovCloud could also be gaining steam at just the right time.

Trevor Jones is a news writer with SearchCloudComputing and SearchAWS. Contact him at [email protected].

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