Amazon launches gov-only cloud

Amazon Web Services is launching a new government-only cloud storage service that will require employees to be American citizens, the company announced Tuesday.

That restriction will open up the cloud provider's services to more sensitive data from agencies that must comply with strict data-handling regulations such as the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, Amazon said.

The ITAR regulations prohibit government agencies from sharing information with non-Americans about weapons and other items banned from export on the U.S. munitions list.

Microsoft's Office365 offers a similar option for American-only handling of data in a subsection of its cloud, but the product is geared specifically to Microsoft Office functions, such as word processing, email and PowerPoints, rather than to more complex computer operations.

Amazon's new "GovCloud" offers the same basic security features as other portions of its public cloud, the company said, and also allows agencies to comply with other regulations governing treatment of federal data, such as the Federal Information Security Management Act and the Health Insurance Accountability and Portability Act, the company said.

Computer clouds essentially are large banks of off-site computer servers that can operate much closer to full capacity than standard servers by rapidly repacking data as one customer surges in usage and another one dips. Cloud customers pay for data storage based on use, as with electricity or another utility, rather than with a set fee.

Federal officials have established a cloud-first policy for new information technology endeavors and estimate the government can move a quarter of it's IT infrastructure to the cloud by 2015, saving about $5 billion annually.

Federal agencies have historically been hesitant to move sensitive data and services to the cloud because of security concerns over housing their data off-site.

Several agencies are already housing their public websites -- such as a newly revamped -- and other data that doesn't require enhanced security inside Amazon's public EC2 cloud.

The EC2 cloud's highest-profile government resident is, the $18 million website that tracks federal stimulus spending.