Amazon Web Services Announces Second ‘Top Secret’ Cloud Region

(AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)

The region is designed for U.S. defense, intelligence and national security agencies.

Amazon Web Services today announced a second cloud computing region designed specifically to host the federal government’s top secret classified information.

Called AWS Top Secret-West, the region provides additional geographic availability and resiliency of AWS cloud services for U.S. intelligence and defense agencies, including the CIA and NSA, on which to host, analyze and run applications.

AWS Top Secret-West is the company’s second commercial cloud accredited for classified workloads that is air-gapped—or shut off—from the rest of the internet. The new region joins AWS Top Secret-East, which has been hosting the government’s top secret data since 2014.

AWS did not disclose the location of the region except to say it is “over 1,000” miles away from AWS Top Secret-East, which is located in northern Virginia.

“With two top secret regions, customers in the U.S. defense, intelligence and national security communities can deploy multi-region architectures to achieve the highest levels of resiliency and availability essential to their most critical national security missions,” AWS Vice President of Worldwide Public Sector Max Peterson said in a blog post Monday. “In addition, they gain proximity to new geographically distributed workloads and mission users.”

The new cloud region comes almost eight years after AWS won a $600 million cloud computing contract with the CIA. Since then, the intelligence community’s use of commercial cloud services has increased significantly, as has AWS’ investments—including its new region—serving those unique cloud customers. 

As AWS’ market share grows, only one of AWS’ current rivals for government business—Microsoft—has achieved government accreditations necessary to host top secret classified data, which the company announced in August

In November 2020, the CIA announced AWS and Microsoft were two of five companies—along with IBM, Oracle and Google—to be awarded its Commercial Cloud Enterprise, or C2E contract, which procurement documents indicated could be worth “tens of billions” of dollars over the next 15 years. After canceling its Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud contract, the Pentagon announced in November that AWS, Microsoft, Oracle and Google will bid on its upcoming multibillion-dollar Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability, or JWCC contract.

The NSA, too, is investing in commercial cloud computing services, awarding AWS a contract worth up to $10 billion in August to modernize its primary data repository. Microsoft challenged the award with the Government Accountability Office, which ultimately recommended in October the agency reevaluate proposals from both companies.

In an October interview with Nextgov, acting Intelligence Community Chief Information Officer Mike Waschull offered some insight into why commercial cloud computing is figuring so heavily into defense and intelligence agency missions. Washull said the cloud provides a scalable environment where a mix of open-source and classified datasets can be brought together for various purposes, such as processing, storage or analysis, and noted that cloud also helps in the retirement of old hardware systems and data centers.

“We’re looking real hard at the data centers that we have and where it’s appropriate, we’re trying to bring those to closure, if you will, and retire them in favor of moving to the commercial cloud,” Waschull said.

The battle for the government’s cloud dollars is a microcosm of the jostling for dominance in a global cloud computing market that could soon be worth $1 trillion as nearly every major private sector company invests in cloud services. Third parties like Gartner have rated AWS as cloud computing’s market leader since the technology’s nascent days, but the company was also the first to specifically service government customers. 

In 2011, AWS launched GovCloud (US-West), becoming the first commercial cloud provider to meet the federal government’s stringent security requirements and compliance designations to host unclassified government workloads. Today, nearly every major cloud service provider offers government solutions for unclassified workloads in a growing federal cloud market Bloomberg Government estimates is approaching $7 billion, but Peterson said AWS is not slowing its pace of innovation.

"Today, with the launch of AWS Top Secret-West, we continue our support for mission workloads that span the full range of U.S. government classifications," Peterson said. "As we continue to innovate with our customers, they gain tools to achieve their missions with greater speed, agility, and security."