"GovCloud" relevant to your
work? This is not a Devops post to
"GovCloud" is a relatively new, and still rather ambiguous, term
on the web. One might assume "the Cloud for Government", and in a
sense you'd be right, but what exactly does that mean? In this
post, we will explore how the term is being used, and what it
GovCloud the product, and
GovCloud the initiative.
In this post we will review "GovCloud"
as applied to two general contexts:
- Specific products from cloud service providers (CSPs).
- Initiatives various jurisdictions and municipalities are
taking, targeting Government organizations and service providers
and their use of cloud products.
Why does this
The GovCloud paradigm focuses on the highly regulated needs of
public organizations, using those regulations to ensure secure and
successful deployments to the cloud, along with a consolidation and
phased deprecation of outdated processes.
Within both contexts, the GovCloud paradigm aims to focus on
standardized approaches to adopting and securing cloud solutions.
Or as FedRAMP puts it, "facilitating the shift from insecure,
tethered, tedious IT to secure, mobile, nimble, and quick IT".
GovCloud, the Global
There are significant cost savings and value propositions in
moving or expanding IT operations to cloud infrastructure, and
government organizations around the world know this too. To
organize these transitions, Governing bodies are working to define
and adopt frameworks and guidelines for running government-managed
or controlled IT operations on cloud providers with GovCloud
Collectively, "GovCloud" refers to this global initiative. While
the specifics differ by jurisdiction, these government-specific
frameworks provide guidelines for deploying and operating
infrastructure on the cloud. For example, "FedRAMP" in the US is the
"Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program" that provides an
assessment and authorization process to ensure proper security and
usability of cloud computing products and services. Under this program,
approved FedRAMP cloud service providers (CSPs) can provide services for
US government agencies and publicly regulated organizations.
Whether migrating from a cloud on an existing commercial stack,
or from on-premises data centers, Government organizations are
interested in the cloud for significant cost savings in infrastructure
and reduction in operational overhead. But a transition to the cloud should
ensure Government data and systems are not at risk, and therefore cloud
providers are responding with solutions built specifically for Government
organizations through GovCloud.
What are the risks?
How does a transition to the cloud
increase risk or jeopardize the integrity and security of public
data and operations?
Pre-cloud network and application security looks a lot like a
castle and moat. Generally speaking, there are clear boundaries,
hardened safe zones with clear access points and explicit
ingress/egress rules. Resources are collected together, and
accessed by internal entities, or through explicit access rules
from outside the moat.
For networks and applications running on cloud infrastructure,
the terrain and risks differ significantly. There is no longer the
ability to build a moat around a small physical location where the
resources you need live and exist. As organizations adopt
cloud-based services and deploy applications to shared
infrastructure on the cloud, the boundaries we had grown familiar
with have disappeared. Permissions and access controls are needed,
and secrets sprawl.
Lastly, going to the cloud requires a shift in tooling and
practices. Hosting platforms and deployment systems need to be
built expecting certain types of failures. The methods for
maintaining resilience in the face of failure differ from on prem
deployments. Operations teams need to apply devops practices in
full to leverage the best in testing, development process and
modularizing and reusability of code. Some operations teams may
have already begun to apply these practices in full, but for
many, the move to the cloud includes those changes as well.
Navigating this terrain can be overwhelming at best, and
disastrous at worst.
What is different about
GovCloud products differ from their commercial counterparts in
several ways. The primary differences begin with regulation.
GovCloud solutions focus on meeting the needs of IT as well as the
strategic, financial and operational objectives of federal
governments worldwide. Due to the unique requirements imposed on
Government organizations, while transitioning to the cloud will
bring significant cost savings, the high-security environment in
GovCloud solutions present unique challenges that make the initial
transition to could more difficult than expected.
In particular, GovCloud products are isolated from their
commercial counterparts. This isolation translates to more costly
and securely execution data migrations, and it requires operations
teams own more of the stack. This comes in the form of additional
work requiring expertise in both the systems being moved and the
platform the systems will now run on.
A future post will cover more about what makes GovCloud
Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure both provide isolated versions of
their cloud environments specifically for Government entities.
Known as their "GovCloud" product, these environments are
segregated from the "commercial" regions used by the private sector
(corporate enterprises and private organizations). In general, they
are more restrictive in various ways, as compared to their
AWS refers to their offering as the GovCloud "Region", though it
is not just another region in AWS terminology.
What's a Region?
AWS makes their services available within geographical zones
known as "Regions". Within the cloud provider account, regions are
near the top of the object hierarchy, standing independently from
one another. Partitions are one level up from regions, with a
partition grouping one or more regions together, and generally for
regulatory and management purposes.
Each partition includes its own authorization and authentication
subsystems (IAM) isolated from the others. In addition the list of
supported AWS services within each partition differs. AWS GovCloud
is one of these "partitions" within AWS' global cloud
infrastructure, and GovCloud Regions are physically isolated from
the regions in other partitions. This isolation manifests in
different API endpoints and subsystems internal to AWS. The
GovCloud regions do not share authentication or authorization
systems with the commercial regions. A new account is used to gain
access to GovCloud.
As of this writing, there are 2 regions in the public GovCloud
partition, `us-gov-west-1` and `us-goveast-1`. Not all of AWS'
services are available in the GovCloud regions. In general, the
more advanced managed services are not always available.
Surprisingly, Route53 is not available. More subtly, due to the
physical isolation of the partition, operations and deployment
tooling that is typically run on the commercial regions often need
updates to work with GovCloud.
Within the commercial partition, customers can share resources
like database snapshots, or setup mirroring for S3 buckets across
regions. Due to the partition and separate IAM subsystem within
GovCloud, it's not possible to directly "share" or configure
resources across the commercial and GovCloud regions. This brings
significant impact to service providers migrating their
applications from commercial AWS accounts to a new account on
GovCloud. Advanced methods and careful engineering are required to
complete these migrations on time and with minimal disruption to
your service. FP Complete has significant experience helping
clients migrate services, and would be happy to support migrating
your production services from commercial to GovCloud regions.
GovCloud at FP
At FP Complete, we have applied our devops experiences to run
client applications on GovCloud certified cloud providers. We have
created new environments from the ground up and have migrated
production systems with minimum downtime. FP Complete have secured
applications and networks deployed to GovCloud environments. We
have also optimized management tooling to improve the user experience
and capabilities available to the engineers who operate these
We have been successful in applying our engineering experience
to GovCloud and would like to help you get there! Contact us today
for free consultation.
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