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Recovery board sends its website to the Amazon cloud

The independent office overseeing Recovery Act spending announced on Thursday that it has outsourced the backbone of Recovery.gov, the official stimulus-tracking website, to Amazon.com, marking the first governmentwide shift to cloud computing.

Recovery.gov publishes reports from federal agencies, as well as state and local funding recipients, on job creation and the progress of projects such as networks for exchanging electronic health records.

The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board expects to save about $750,000 during the next two fiscal years as a result of moving to cloud computing.

Cloud computing refers to a process in which an agency or a company pays a third-party host for online access to hardware and software applications on a per-use basis. White House officials are pressing agencies to transition their IT systems to the cloud within the next decade to consolidate data centers, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase efficiencies by allowing employees to tap into the federal IT infrastructure remotely.

"It was the board's decision to get to the cloud," Earl Devaney, chairman of the board, told reporters during a call on Thursday.

Last summer board members selected a contractor to enhance what was at the time a rudimentary site with more features. They planned to eventually move Recovery.gov to the cloud. But officials were concerned about storing enormous amounts of spending data outside the board's internal computer networks while they were testing different formats for feeding information into dynamic maps and other interactive features. "I think it was prudent to go ahead and do it the old-fashioned way and then move to the cloud," Devaney said.

On April 26, Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) began provisioning data center services and computer equipment for Recovery.gov.

The board allotted Recovery.gov's prime contractor, Smartronix, a budget of up to $18 million to run the site. Smartronix chose Amazon as a subcontractor, Devaney said.

The savings from the arrangement will allow the board to focus other computing resources on rooting out fraud, waste and abuse in the economic stimulus program. Analysts working for the board have been probing databases to uncover suspicious spending patterns and previously undisclosed connections between contractors and other entities to flag areas that might warrant further investigation.

Recovery.gov "is the first governmentwide system that's moved to the cloud," federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra said during the call. "This shift demonstrates a commitment to cloud computing as we scale in the coming months and years."

NASA and a number of other federal groups have been testing Amazon's cloud services, he added.

Some federal agencies and security specialists say the cloud is not yet mature enough to provide robust information protection. Kundra said Recovery.gov was an ideal cloud experiment for the government because it does not house information that is sensitive or vital to national security. "It makes sense from a security and privacy perspective," he said.

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