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October 10, 2012

Amazon Highlights Public Sector Prominence

Tiffany Trader

At the AWS Public Sector Summit in Washington, DC, this week, Amazon pulled back the covers on its cloud business to offer a rare glimpse at actual usage figures.

The Web giant revealed that “more than 300 government agencies and 1,500 education institutions are leveraging AWS for a wide range of uses including big data analytics, high performance computing, web and collaboration applications, archiving and storage, and disaster relief.”

The online-bookstore-turned-cloud company also used the occasion to announce the addition of new features, including HPC capabilities, to the AWS GovCloud, a US-only region that is sensitive to the compliance and regulatory requirements of US government agencies and contractors.

Amazon says that government agencies around the world are looking to the cloud and AWS as a way to stretch budgets and fulfill cloud-first mandates. A short list of AWS government customers includes:

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), The US Recovery and Accountability Board, The US Department of the Treasury, US Department of State, US Department of Agriculture, The European Space Agency, NASA, State of Washington, Douglas County (NE) and Multnomah County (OR).

Amazon reports significant adoption from the education and research sector as well. These users seek to advance learning while dealing with funding constraints that limit the purchase of expensive computer systems. Amazon counts over 1,500 education institutions as customers, among them MIT, Harvard, California Institute of Technology, and many more.

One significant use case comes out of the University of San Francisco which provides an M.S. in Analytics. The program lays the foundation for data-driven decision-making. Terence Parr, Director of the Analytics Graduate Program, University of San Francisco, explains in an official statement that they’ve “integrated AWS into the curriculum … [to] give students real-world experience computing and analyzing large quantities of data.”

But its the second part of Parr’s statement that really gets to the heart of the matter:

“The majority of students are used to running simulated analytics on their laptops, but that’s not the way it’s done in business today. By using AWS, each student gains access to the compute resources they need to solve large-scale problems just as they would in their future careers, without our organization having to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on supercomputer-strength hardware.”

Success in the digital world of the 21st century will require this kind of education, and this kind of education requires access to high-end computers. Owning these expensive systems outright isn’t a feasible goal for very many organizations, but with a cloud-based approach, the cost is shared by all the users and amortized over time thanks to the cloud provider. Amazon is attractive because it’s basically an “out-of-the-box” system, accessible with a credit card. But if these organizations further wanted to reduce their TCO, they could join together to create their very own AWS-type system – a members-only community cloud. Still, coming up with the capital outlay for a project of this magnitude is nothing to sneeze at, and that’s why Amazon continues to be one to watch.

Amazon for its part has been generous to research and education causes. They just kicked in $9,500 to the Cycle BigScience contest and overall have donated about $4 million to 350 universities in 35 countries. The money is divvied out via Amazon’s education grants program, which gives educators, students and researchers the opportunity to apply for AWS service credits.

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