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Amazon deploys true-blue US gov cloud for secret arms data

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Amazon is upping the pressure on both Microsoft and Google in the battle to scoop up cash-strapped government customers into the cloud.

The online bookseller has moved to win over more government customers with the launch of AWS GovCloud, its cloud for US gov departments that crunch super-secret defence data.

AWS GovCloud is a region, Amazon's sixth, which is designed to meet a tough set of US government rules known as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

ITAR says controlled data must be stored in an environment where logical and physical access is limited to US persons or permanent residents. That data covers the import and export of a long list of goods and services, ranging from warheads and missile-control systems to aircraft carriers and tanks.

Without ITAR compliance, US departments could not legally have uploaded this data to Amazon's existing service, given that compute and storage happens in three non-US regions.

AWS GovCloud is based on the US West Coast, Amazon said, while the service already meets the same US regulatory controls as the rest of its regions – including Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA), PCI DSS Level 1, ISO 27001, and SAS 70.

Now the etailer says it is ready to talk to other governments about adopting GovCloud, potentially adopting similar regulatory restrictions.

Werner Vogels, Amazon chief technology officer, blogged: "We do not envision that over time GovCloud will address only the needs of the US government and contractors. We are certainly interested in understanding whether there are opportunities in other governments with respect to their specific regulatory requirements that could be solved by a specialized region."

Government is a hot area for cloud providers. Amazon claims more than 100 federal, state and local government agencies already onboard its existing services.

Microsoft and Google, meanwhile, are running PR campaigns against each other, claiming government customers' scalps to prove their cloud is winning against the others.

National and local government has proved a fertile hunting ground as the US's economy has stalled and austerity becomes the watchword for the public sector.

Microsoft and Google are pushing hard to sign up agencies to their hosted email and docs. For the public-sector IT people involved, this has meant they get the prospect of brand-new systems without either the up-front purchase cost or the long-term maintenance costs.

Much of the Microsoft and Google fight has been over email and docs; at times, though, it has been point-scoring over precisely the kind of regulatory approval Amazon has on GovCloud. The idea has been to sow uncertainty about their rivals in customers' minds or to reverse customers' decisions.

In April, Microsoft accused Google of misleading the market about the FISMA certification of Google Apps for Government. Google shot back saying Microsoft's cloud services for government wasn't FISMA-certified. It is now suing the US Department of the Interior for its selection of Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite-Federal – Microsoft's rival to Google Apps for Government – saying the department had violated government procurement policies.

While Google and Microsoft tussle over details, both are behind on what they'd really like to be: the leading platform for hosting devs apps and data. That crown belongs to Amazon, which is now beginning to serve as a platform for other cloud businesses such as Ruby host Heroku.

Microsoft's alternative to Amazon is Azure: the company claims a list of customers using the Azure compute fabric and storage layer to deliver apps, but it has yet to find Amazon-levels of traction.

Microsoft this week re-jigged the pricing and packaging on its smallest level of compute instance for the third time since last autumn's launch. ®

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