AWS for the Public Sector – Benefits, Use Cases, and Concerns

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Amazon Web Services (AWS) provides a range of public cloud services. In the public cloud deployment model, IT resources, including storage, computing instances, database applications, and software development environments, are made available and accessible to clients via the Internet.

The data and other IT resources consumed within individual AWS client accounts, which can contain hundreds or thousands of users, remains private to those users. However, the underlying infrastructure is shared by pools of clients.

Aside from the private sector’s use of AWS, public sector decision-makers and leaders are beginning to turn to AWS to help them achieve various technological missions and projects. Government departments and organizations, ranging from local to regional to national, are beginning to leverage AWS cloud services to help better serve their citizens. Over 2,000 United States government agencies currently use AWS services.

AWS Public Sector Use Cases

Amazon WorkSpaces For Education

Amazon WorkSpaces is a cloud-based desktop-as-a-service that can give students at K-12 schools cost-effective access to software tools like Adobe Photoshop, MATLAB, and AutoCAD as part of initiatives to make future generations technologically savvy.

WorkSpaces operates on a pay-as-you-go model, and it provides much more cost-effective access to important software than outdated and expensive computer labs. Schools can purchase subscriptions to WorkSpaces and students can access the necessary tools to complete their work using their own personal computers, laptops, or tablets.

S3 and CloudFront For Public Broadcasting

Public broadcasters, which are typically funded by governments, often put heavy emphasis on providing educational and entertainment content to a country’s citizens. As the world becomes more connected, public broadcasters are looking to make their content available online through the use of web and mobile applications from which citizens can stream that content using compatible devices.

However, because of the scope involved in providing a public broadcasting streaming service, it is a real challenge to implement technological solutions that stream video files with high-performance and consistency. Enter AWS, which the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in the U.S. uses to stream its videos online.

The PBS uses Amazon S3 storage to store all their video content and Amazon CloudFront, which is a content delivery network, to stream videos with minimal errors.

Smart Cities

The idea behind a smart city is that the municipal decision-makers and policymakers in a given area can use technology and information to make entire cities become more operationally efficient. These efficiencies can mean better traffic flow, smarter resource management, and improved reaction times to public safety threats.

The smart city concept is realized first through the use of a range of sensors and other devices which are connected to each other and to the Internet—the Internet of Things. IoT devices could include traffic lights, surveillance cameras, or sensors that monitor water reservoir levels.  The second requirement for smart cities is the ability to turn all the data collected and transmitted by those devices and sensors into improved services for citizens. This can happen through the use of various AWS services working together, as is the case in Kansas City, which uses the following:

  • Amazon Kinesis is a big data engine that processes real-time events from a city’s IoT sources.
  • Amazon Lambda, which is a serverless computing engine, can aggregate, analyze, and query this data automatically.
  • Amazon Redshift is a data warehouse solution that can be used to store huge repositories of city data.

Data Backup & Archiving

Various agencies and organizations within a given region gather all sorts of data from citizens. This information can include details about the taxes citizens pay, social welfare information, addresses, social security numbers, occupations, and income. All this data quickly adds up and needs to be securely archived for backup purposes.

The AWS cloud provides low-cost archival storage in its AWS Glacier service that can substantially reduce the cost of maintaining these backups compared to older methods of archiving such as using tape-based backups.

AWS Public Cloud Challenges and Security Issues

Public cloud services such as those provided by AWS have some interesting use cases for the public sector, however, it’s important to bear in mind that this particular cloud deployment model carries some very specific security risks and challenges. Some of the challenges are:

  • Access Control—it is a challenge to enforce strict access control for public cloud deployments for an organization spanning multiple users. Where sensitive public sector data is concerned, enforcing the principle of least privileges for data access is of paramount importance. Malicious threats can just as easily come from within the organization as from outside.
  • External Threats—the nature of public cloud services is that they are accessible via the Internet, which makes it, in many ways, more susceptible to external threats, whether by brute force hacking attempts or social engineering attacks. Furthermore, there have been issues with data breaches occurring as a result of organization’s leaving Amazon S3 storage buckets completely unsecured and accessible to anyone.
  • Data Security—data both at rest and in transit needs to be fully secured and encrypted.
  • Service Disruption—major cloud providers like AWS typically guarantee high levels of uptime in their service level agreements, however, for public sector use cases, particularly smart cities, any type of downtime can prove extremely costly.

Wrap Up

The public sector can drive improved services for citizens by utilizing the latest in public cloud technology. A vendor like AWS is a solid candidate for public sector workloads due to its extensive range of cloud services and its powerful computing infrastructure. Public sector organizations will only derive value from public cloud deployments if they aware of and take steps to mitigate the main security risks.

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