Amazon rewards government agencies working on innovative cloud projects


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Greetings to all my fellow techies. Last week I wrote about how Los Angeles County set up a program for more than 100,000 employees to tap into information and keep in touch with one another using cloud technology. That program included an innovative hybrid approach with which sensitive data, such as that used by law enforcement, could be kept in-house in a private cloud while other information is being shared in a less secure but still protected public government cloud. They used a Microsoft-based solution that included Office 365 and seemed to be quite happy with the results. But Microsoft is just one vendor in the cloud space, and L.A. is only one city.

I predict it won’t be long before almost every federal agency and most of the state and local departments in the United States will have at least some data residing in the cloud. If handled correctly, doing so can make information more secure at the same time that it’s more accessible, a sort of cloud-based magic trick that wouldn’t have been possible even a few years ago.

At the federal level, much of the success of the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative in trying to close hundreds of data centers is pinned to the ability to create virtualized content out of traditional data and upload that information to the cloud before shutting the doors of the physical facilities

But even outside of FDCCI, there is a huge pressure on government agencies to do more with less these days, so it’s no wonder that many of the most interesting cloud-based projects are coming from government. In fact, most government cloud initiatives go well beyond traditional storage.

Amazon Web Services, one of the largest providers of cloud services for government, recently held a contest where agencies could compete based on the innovation of their cloud projects. Called the City on a Cloud challenge, the four government winners received something I’m sure they all needed: $50,000 to continue their cloud-based implementations. I thought it would be nice to celebrate those winners here too.

2014_06_NYDOT1The first winner was the New York City Department of Transportation. Very few cities in the U.S. are as dependent on public transportation as NYC. It’s one of the few places you can live where owning a car is an optional expense. But it’s also a huge city with a complicated transportation plan that involves busses, subways and trains sharing space with pedestrians, bike riders, taxis and cars. The NYC Transportation Department has created mobile and web applications to help make sense of it all. Its apps are served from the cloud, accessible anywhere and provide real-time transportation and condition information that covers the entire city. It also includes an interactive map of city parking regulations, a pedestrian city travel planning application and online maps of construction sites and capital projects.

“We use the cloud to increase the availability and resiliency of our applications and systems,” said Cordell Schachter, New York City Department of Transportation chief technology officer. “It helps us provide important transportation information directly to the public and to our staff every day and during critical times.”

CityofAshevilleDown in the southern part of the country, the city of Ashville, North Carolina, earned a victory with its totally cloud-based disaster recovery system. Even if the city experiences power outages, earthquakes or major weather events, services to citizens should be able to continue thanks to having everything backed up and served from the cloud. Thankfully, the system didn’t have to experience a real test to achieve for the award. But it looks like should the worst happen, Ashville will be ready for it.

2014_06_LondonCityAirportAcross the Atlantic, the London City Airport may be smaller than other well-known international airports in the city, but that didn’t stop it from using the cloud in an innovative way to help its passengers reach their destinations quickly. It created a traveler app that brings together real-time data from sensors, airline systems and airport services and gives a complete view of airport operations in real time. Passengers can use the app to avoid trouble spots at the airport and find the correct gate for their flights, regardless if things are running behind schedule or if flight elements or baggage claim numbers have been changed.

City&CountyofSanFranciscoLast, but certainly not least, the City and County of San Francisco Planning Department has created a really amazing interactive site that shows all publicly available information about any property within the city. I played around with this app a bit, and it’s really well-done, easily worthy of the City on a Cloud prize. You can click on any property in the city, and in a few seconds, it will tell you how much it’s worth, how much traffic is in the area, when it was built and all other information that might be helpful to a potential buyer or investor. You can then click to get a street-level view of the place from Google. All of the static data is updated in real time when needed. So if you are looking for a new place to live in San Francisco or a storefront to purchase or you just want to see how a well-constructed cloud application works, check out the new site. My planned “five minute” visit ended up lasting several hours as I virtually explored the city.

Congratulations to all the government groups who earned City on a Cloud prizes. Let’s hope that these four excellent examples can serve as a roadmap for other agencies looking to take their first steps into cloud efficiency.

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AWS GovCloud, Commentary, Guest Columns, Technocrat
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