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AWS cloud gains critical federal security certification

Beats off Rackspace, Microsoft, Google, for government jobs

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The more people you have to go through to get approval for an IT project, the less likely it is to happen, so when Amazon announces another security certification it's not just about compliance, it's about releasing pent-up cloud demand.

With the company's announcement on Tuesday that both its US West and East data center hubs, and its public sector-specific GovCloud have been granted Agency Authority to Operate (ATOs) under the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP), Amazon has taken a lead on every single one of its cloud rivals, none of whom have attained the critical certification.

With FedRAMP compliance, Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), Simple Storage Service (S3), Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC), and Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS) have all been given the stamp of approval that will let US government agencies use them without having to have as much back and forth between them and Amazon or them and other agencies about specific security issues.

"The FedRAMP program is designed to standardize cybersecurity," a spokesman for the US General Services Administration, told The Register. The certification "tells you that they have gone through and met the various controls to qualify for that security process."

Only Amazon Web Services, CGI Federal, and Autonomic Resources have received FedRaMP certification, the spokesman confirmed. At the time of writing Google confirmed with us that they did not have the certification, Rackspace said they didn't and had no plans to pursue it, and Microsoft said it had "nothing to share at this time".

FedRAMP was created in 2010 as a way of creating a general standard for basic security requirements that could be used to assess cloud service providers.

Though the program is in its early stages and, the spokesman said, "is moving from crawl to walk right now", it is an important part of the White House's cloud-first approach to public sector IT. Once FedRAMP has been granted it eases the security certification requirements for those CSPs for rolling-out future products for the public sector.

"Now all U.S. government agencies can save significant time, costs and resources by leveraging the AWS Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) ATO packages in the FedRAMP repository to evaluate AWS for their applications and workloads, provide their own authorizations to use AWS, and transition workloads into the AWS environment," Amazon wrote in a statement.

The FedRAMP certification follows other overtures by Amazon to the public sector, including the company's Cloud HSM security appliance, and the creation of its ITAR-compliant GovCloud way back in 2011.

Though FedRAMP is important for public sector, many businesses' security standards can be settled by consuming resources from an ISO 27001-compliant provider, and here support is much broader with Windows Azure, Google Cloud, Amazon Web Services and Rackspace all boasting of their compliance.

Amazon's FedRAMP compliance versus the lack of certification for its rivals like Google, Microsoft, and Rackspace highlights the gulf of features and capability that exists between it and its rivals, and the cost and complexity required of modern tier one cloud providers.

Whenever we write about Amazon, it seems as though it's a couple of steps ahead of its competitors, and with belt-tightening across the federal government leading to further use of cloud IT projects, FedRAMP could help the cloud devour workloads that, at the moment, its competitors will find hard to attract. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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