AWS Government, Education, & Nonprofits Blog

The DARPA HIVE Program: Understanding Relationships with Data

on | in government |

Social media, sensor feeds, and scientific data generate large amounts of data and understanding the relationships between this data can be challenging. Graph analytics has emerged as a way to make sense of this allowing analysts to draw conclusions from the patterns in the data and to ask and answer questions, that they previously had been no hope of answering.

By understanding the complex relationships between different data feeds, a more complete picture of the problem can be understood. With lessons learned from innovations in the expanding realm of deep neural networks, the Defense Agencies Research Program Agency’s (DARPA) Hierarchical Identify Verify Exploit (HIVE) program seeks to advance graph analytics.

The DARPA HIVE program is looking to build a graph analytics processor that can process streaming graphs 1000X faster and at much lower power than current processing technology. This will provide the power to advance graph analytics to solve challenges in areas such as cyber security and infrastructure monitoring. In parallel with the development of the HIVE processor, DARPA is hosting the HIVE challenge to develop a trillion-edge dataset with solutions that will contribute to this initiative. The goal is to accelerate innovation in graph analytics to open new pathways for meeting the challenge of understanding an ever-increasing torrent of data.

Organizers will provide specifications, datasets, data generators, and serial implementations in various languages to participants. As part of the Challenge, AWS and DARPA have entered into a collaborative agreement, which represents the first Department of Defense (DoD) Agency to participate in the AWS Public Datasets program. Additionally, eligible researchers doing work with the DARPA HIVE Challenge are encouraged to apply for AWS usage credits via the AWS Cloud Credits for Research program.

There are two initial challenges:

  1. The first is a static graph problem focused on sub-graph Isomorphism. This provides the ability to search a large graph in order to identify a particular subsection of that graph.
  2. The second is a dynamic graph problem focused on trying to find optimal clusters of data within the graph. Both will have a small graph problems in the billions of nodes and a large graph problem in the trillions of nodes.

Learn more and get involved.

What do Birds and Social Media Have in Common? AWS Machine Learning Support

on | in Education |

Machine learning enables computers to make predictions from data without having been explicitly programmed to do so. Developers and researchers use AWS to develop and refine custom machine learning algorithms to help solve complex problems like classifying images and text.

In this post, we profile two academic researchers who used the AWS Cloud Credits for Research program to support their groundbreaking research. Learn how these researchers use the AWS Cloud to learn about language through 140 characters and identify different species of birds with just a photo.

Social Media Sentiment

Noah Smith, Associate Professor of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington, designs algorithms for automated analysis of human language. He and his collaborators study social media to see what tweets and posts can reveal about language in today’s networked world.

“AWS supported a range of projects in the fields of computational linguistics and natural language processing. Most notably, we studied the link between sentiment expressed by social media users to public opinion surveys and language variation across the United States,” said Noah. “We also developed new tools for automated linguistic analysis of social media text.”

Social media messages offer new insight into regional language variation and change over time.  For example, new methods developed using AWS resources inferred a “subway map” of American cities, showing how new words on social media expand to usage in new places.

All About Birds

Serge Belongie, Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Cornell University and Cornell Tech, used image classification algorithms for a practical application. His team created the Merlin Bird App to offer quick identification help for beginning and intermediate bird watchers to learn about North America’s most common birds.

The app users can identify birds with just a photo or by answering five questions. Described as “like Shazam, but for birds,” users simply snap a photo of a bird, or pull one in from their camera roll, and Merlin Photo ID will offer a short list of possible matches. Merlin draws upon more than 370 million observations from the eBird citizen-science project and customizes the list to the species most likely to have been seen at the location and time of year.

“Our ability to use cloud storage and cloud computing on AWS has been instrumental for us to deploy the Merlin Bird Photo ID system to the public,” Serge said.

To build a successful visual recognition engine for birds, Serge and team created custom machine learning algorithms. The more data they collect, the more the algorithm is able to identify patterns. Those patterns are then used to improve Merlin’s performance and accuracy.

AWS Services for Artificial Intelligence

While these researchers used the power of AWS to develop their own Machine Learning algorithms, you do not need to be an expert in Artificial Intelligence (AI) to add Machine Learning algorithms to your applications. Amazon AI services enable you to:

  • Build conversational interfaces to your applications using voice and text
  • Add image analysis to your applications
  • Turn text into lifelike speech that you can store and play back
  • Build smart machine learning applications quickly and easily.

AWS also hosts several Public Datasets for Machine Learning research, including Common Crawl, Multimedia Commons, Landsat, and the Amazon Bin Image Dataset.

Are you an academic researcher interested in experimenting with ML and AI? Visit our AWS Cloud Credits for Research program.

SXSW Recap: Input Local, Output Global

on | in government |

SXSW brought in technology companies, startups, elected officials, and more to Austin to talk about innovation. Mayors are focused on using technology to engage with the citizen and the Civic I/O Mayors Summit at SXSW gave mayors the opportunity to learn from other mayors about how to fuel startup innovation in their cities and how to leverage technology to overcome challenges. At the event, we interviewed many of the mayors in attendance. Watch these videos here.

As we heard about the mayors’ focus on improving the lives of citizens throughout the country, APN partners showcased civic applications during the Civic I/O Mayor’s Garage to help leaders face challenges with air quality, crime, drugs, and health.

HC1 presented its solution that leverages clinical, prescription, and claims data to trend and act on opioid, mental health, and other health issues facing communities. Acivilate demonstrated the Pokket mobile accountability tool, which links justice and Health and Human Service (HHS) agencies with returning citizens to build coordinated rehabilitation plans that reduce recidivism. Shotspotter also exhibited its gunshot detection solution, Shotspotter Flex, a gunfire alert system that provides critical information to give law enforcement agencies the detailed real-time data needed to investigate, analyze and prosecute gun-related crimes.

With innovation and collaboration at the heart of the conversations, Intel and Simularity presented an AWS powered solution that monitored the City of Austin’s air quality, identifying patterns that could be correlated to public health.

Opening up the conversation to civic-minded startups, the City of Austin hosted the Civic I/O Tech Pitch Competition. Mayors were excited to talk to these startups and learn more about how they can leverage civic technologies ranging from public safety to transportation improvements to communicating with their citizens. AWS sponsored and participated on the judging panel. The winners were:

  1. RIDEALONG – a CJIS compliant first responder software that provides patrol officers key information about people with mental illness at the scene—everything from tailored de-escalation techniques to personalized service referral options.
  2. RoadBotics – an application that collects and analyzes hazardous road conditions and notifies the presiding municipalities of roadway problems and anomalies.
  3. SMARTER SORTING – contributing to a “zero waste economy,” smarter sorting uses technology to sort hazardous household waste, increasing waste diversion and reducing cost.

Between the startup pitched and the mayor’s garage, the conversations carried a common theme – what benefit does this bring my citizens?

Mayors are key to driving innovation in government. They want to be known for enacting change and driving improvements through technology. Government services are breaching the technology wave and driving citizen-engaged programs that improve the lives of the end user.

If you are looking for ideas on how to implement AWS cloud technology in your city, check out the City on a Cloud Innovation Map.  Also, remember to apply for a chance to win up to $50,000 in AWS credits.  The winners will be announced at our AWS Public Sector Summit in DC this June 12-14.

Cloud.gov on AWS GovCloud (US) Now FedRAMP Authorized

on | in government |

Cloud.gov, which runs on AWS GovCloud (US) and is built and maintained by GSA’s 18F, an office that helps other government agencies build, buy, and share technology products, recently received a Provisional Authority to Operate (P-ATO) at the moderate impact level from the FedRAMP Joint Authorization Board (JAB). It is now the first fully open source FedRAMP solution.

Cloud.gov’s mission is to provide a platform as a service for government teams, making it faster, simpler, and more secure. The 18F blog post states that, “cloud.gov is for teams that build and deliver websites (and other web-based applications) as part of their work — for example, an agency homepage, an open data API, or an internal information management tool. The agency’s development team sets up the application on cloud.gov, and cloud.gov handles the security, compliance, and maintenance of the underlying platform.”

With cloud.gov, government agencies can:

  • Quickly deploy applications that comply with federal policies — without needing to manage infrastructure.
  • Run scalable cloud-native applications. Since cloud.gov provides services on top of AWS, agencies can take advantage of AWS services, such as Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS), and Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2).
  • Try experiments: build and test prototypes without adding extra expense.
  • Shorten the path to ATO (Authority to Operate) for each new or updated application. After an agency issues cloud.gov an ATO, only applications need to be evaluated for security and compliance.

With the recent FedRAMP announcement, now when agencies build a system on cloud.gov, their system or application inherits the FedRAMP compliance of the platform, which substantially reduces the amount of compliance work they need to do and accelerates the path to authorization. It handles many of the FedRAMP technical and compliance requirements of the underlying cloud platform, and allows agencies to focus on their web applications and code instead. Using AWS removes the necessity of the customer managing this infrastructure. Cloud.gov is an optimal solution for small to medium-sized agencies seeking a lower barrier to entry for cloud adoption, as well as larger agencies that require streamlined, rapid capability deployment for mission and enterprise applications.

Cloud.gov runs in the AWS GovCloud (US) region, which has a FedRAMP JAB P-ATO at the High impact level. AWS GovCloud (US) also offers support for other compliance needs, such as ITAR compliance, DOD SRG and CJIS. Learn more about AWS GovCloud (US) here.

Improving Security with Cloud Computing: Six Advantages of Cloud Security

on | in Education, government, Nonprofit |

Security is our number one priority, and at AWS, we have comprehensive security capabilities to protect virtually any workload. Through AWS Security services, we provide the opportunities to protect your data, monitor security-related activity, and receive automated responses. This gives our customers the ability to increase their security posture in the cloud, deliver more agile IT, and lower costs. With that in mind, here are six advantages of cloud security.

  1. Integration of compliance and security – You can leverage AWS activity monitoring services to detect configuration change and security events, even integrating AWS activity with your existing monitoring solutions for simplified compliance reporting. We provide compliance reports based on managing thousands of security controls inherited through the AWS platform, making it easier and faster for you to meet security and compliance requirements.
  2. Economies of scale apply – When organizations submit security requirements, we incorporate their feedback into the AWS security platform. All customers benefit from AWS security innovation and improvements made from customer feedback. Last year, we released hundreds of security and compliance related features and service enhancements.
  3. Customer focus on systems and applications – The cloud reduces the total “security surface area” that customer security experts need to manage themselves. Our shared responsibility model allows you to focus your expertise on the higher level operating system and application security management. You retain control of what security you choose to implement to protect your own content, applications, systems and networks, no differently than you would for applications in an on-premises data center.
  4. Visibility, homogeneity, and automation – With the cloud, you get to choose from a rich but more homogeneous set of infrastructure and capabilities. You can control down to the operating system image level what should be used in your environment. Using cloud orchestration capabilities like AWS CloudFormation, your security experts can validate a pre-defined configuration of systems and then those can be “stamped out” with all security features enabled and in place. For example, you can leverage AWS Quick Starts to automate the configuration of AWS resources to meet many compliance requirements.
  5. Cloud platforms as “systems containers” – Cloud platforms are “systems containers” that surround traditional systems and provide more insight into their behavior and functioning, including security issues, providing a new kind of “defense in depth.” The “container” that runs your operating systems and applications is programmable, monitorable, and reactive software. For example, without knowing anything about the internal workings of your application, once you know its normal network behavior, you can set monitoring alarms at the infrastructure level that will trigger a smart response to any unusual activity.
  6. Cloud, big data, security – With low-cost access to massive amounts of storage and processing capacity, our customers use the cloud to secure the cloud (they run big data analytics on security data and log data, which provides more insight into their security posture and results in a much faster remediation of issues). Leverage storage and processing power of the cloud to find the security event needles in the cloud haystack.

With the speed of innovation and increasing scale, the cloud story will only get better. AWS will continue to raise the bar in our efforts to provide our customers with an IT infrastructure and security services that deliver agility, visibility, scalability, and integrity. Our track record of operational integrity along with our rapid pace of innovation have gained the trust of government mission owners by delivering secure, agile, and cost-effective IT services.

Amazon Receives ACORE’s Corporate Innovation and Leadership Award in Renewable Energy

on | in Nonprofit |

At last night’s American Council on Renewable Energy’s (ACORE) 15th Anniversary Gala in Washington D.C, Amazon received the Corporate Innovation and Industry Leadership Award in recognition of Amazon’s commitment to renewable energy. Spanning retail, devices, media, cloud computing and more, Amazon is pioneering new products and services on behalf of customers to build a more sustainable world.

Amazon has a broad push for renewable energy across the business and is a corporate member of ACORE, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the renewable energy sector through market development, policy changes, and financial innovation.

Accepting the ACORE award on behalf of Amazon was Teresa Carlson, Vice President of Worldwide Public Sector for Amazon Web Services.

“At Amazon, we are putting our scale and our inventive culture to work on sustainability and protecting our environment, said Teresa. “We are honored to receive the award and looking forward to continuing to innovate and deliver on our commitment to running our business in the most environmentally friendly way possible.”

Amazon and Sustainability

Amazon is a company of builders, and we have been at work building innovative, sustainable solutions for our business.

Amazon is undertaking several clean energy initiatives across the company. Examples of our projects include a 253 MW wind farm – our largest to date – in Scurry County, TX, wind and solar farms in four states to add renewable energy to the electrical grids that supply AWS data centers, green rooftops for our corporate offices, rooftop solar installations across 50 of our fulfillment centers by 2020, and the District Energy Project that uses recycled energy for heating offices in Seattle. Learn more about these projects here.

In addition to the environmental benefits inherently associated with running applications in the cloud, AWS has made a lot of progress towards the long-term commitment to power the global AWS infrastructure with 100% renewable energy. We exceeded our goal of 40% renewable energy by the end of 2016, and we have set a new goal to be powered by 50% renewable energy by the end of 2017.

AWS has funded ten wind and solar PPAs to increase the overall amount of renewable energy available on the grids that serve AWS data centers. These ten renewable energy projects will deliver more than 2.6 million MWh of renewable energy annually into the electric grids that supply current and future AWS Cloud data centers in Virginia and Ohio. The electricity produced from these projects is enough to power the equivalent of nearly 240,000 U.S. homes annually.

Learn more about how AWS is working to achieve its goal of 100% renewable energy usage for our global infrastructure footprint and learn more about Amazon’s sustainability efforts here.

Automate NIST Compliance in AWS GovCloud (US) with AWS Quick Start Tools

on | in government |

Take the steps to deploy security-focused baseline environments on the AWS Cloud in this Quick Start demo. This Quick Start deploys a standardized environment that helps organizations with workloads that fall in scope for any of the following:

  • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) SP 800-53 (Revision 4)
  • NIST SP 800-171
  • The OMB Trusted Internet Connection (TIC) Initiative – FedRAMP Overlay (pilot)
  • The DoD Cloud Computing Security Requirements Guide (SRG)

View this short demo and learn how to automate NIST and FedRAMP High compliance in just a few clicks. Let’s see how easy and quick it is to deploy a secure and compliant NIST environment.

  1. Navigate to aws.amazon.com/quickstart and scroll down to the “Security & Compliance” section. Find the NIST and the NIST-High Quick Starts and then hit “View Guide.” The guide will provide what you need to know to deploy the NIST-compliant AWS architecture and links to the security control matrix, which describes how the environment meets NIST-control baselines.
  2. Within the guide, scroll down and click on the “Launch Quick Start” if you want to launch it into a public AWS Region. Or, if you want to specifically launch it in AWS GovCloud (US), then click the link above. Within the demo, we will be launching it into a public AWS Region (AWS US-East)
  3. Once you click on the “Launch Quick Start,” it will take you to the Cloud Formation console inside your AWS account. Hit the next button and it will load the Cloud Formation template, which will prompt you to fill in some parameters to customize this for your environment (Database password, Existing SSH Keys for your Instances, and the Availability Zones). After this, hit next. Take the defaults on the next screen and then hit next again. Acknowledge that “AWS CloudFormation might create IAM resources with custom names.” Hit create
  4. At this point, an environment will be built for you in about 30 minutes. Once it is created, you will notice that all of the stacks are available to you. Then, you can go through the stacks and see how they were built and configured to your specification. To show that they are built correctly, there is a landing page that you can click within the application stack’s outputs.
  5. Congratulations! You have successfully launched the Standardized Architecture for NIST 800-53 on the AWS Cloud Quick Start. Here you will find links to the security matrix and other artifacts that will help you document the system for your own authorizations.

That’s it for the demo! Watch the full video here.

Using Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to Shape the Country

on | in government |

Dcode42 and AWS join together – a guest blog by Meagan Metzger, Dcode42

Whether you know it or not, your life is impacted everyday by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning. In fact, if you asked Alexa about the weather or traffic while enjoying your morning cup of coffee, you leveraged AI. This voice recognition is part of the growing field of technology that is changing the lives of consumers and our interaction with technology.

The government is no exception. AI is also becoming involved in every aspect of how our country runs—national security, economics, healthcare, and other domains. AI affords our government and nation opportunities to increase efficiency, make more intelligent decisions, and provide better services to citizens. As is usually the case, the issue in the public sector is adoption. Will this new technology be adopted in time to create the same benefit that the private sector will see or will the public sector take a wait and see approach that will limit how quickly and widely this new technology can be used?

Over the past six months, team members of Dcode42, a government technology accelerator program, worked closely with government leadership and large industry players to understand their biggest challenges. It quickly became clear that AI may be a critical solution to many agency challenges, but it is still uncharted territory for many agencies. In order to speed this adoption, Dcode42 and AWS are joining forces to address this challenge and drive AI companies and technology into government to solve real problems.

Accelerating AI and Machine Learning Adoption in Government

Dcode42 provides emerging technology companies with everything they need to succeed in the federal market through our comprehensive accelerator programs. We recently announced our newest cohort that focuses on delivering the most promising AI and machine learning tools to the government. This time, we are teaming with AWS because of the incredible tools, resources, networks, and insights AWS, both as a technology service and as a company, provide.

By bringing together Dcode42 and AWS, we offer a powerful launching pad for technology companies of all sizes to succeed quickly. Companies accepted into this three-month program receive concentrated guidance and support on crucial aspects of entering the federal market, including:

  • Classes with renowned industry Subject Matter Experts on the inner workings of government – from marketing and sales to compliance, procurement, pricing and more;
  • Exclusive briefings with key government buyers and industry leaders;
  • Access to industry specialists and mentors for expert guidance and networking connections;
  • Exposure to an extensive partner network of large and small partners to increase revenue opportunities; and
  • Hands on strategic-planning and go-to-market support to maximize your resources.

Along with the robust programming that Dcode42 companies receive, this particular cohort will have the opportunity to work with AWS public sector teams to further speed their time to market. Companies leave the program with very tactical plans, close integration with AWS teams, and, in many cases, immediate opportunities for revenue.

Who Should Apply

The program has two tracks for companies of different sizes: the startups track, for companies with under $14M in revenue and/or funding, and the emerging growth track, for companies with $14-150M in revenue and/or funding. Our program is designed for two types of companies:

  • Those with some traction in the federal market, but who are still in earlier stages of developing their government practice. These companies may have a few contracts or a dedicated federal team with prior experience.
  • Companies completely new to the federal government looking to succeed more quickly who are not sure the best approach to take.

The deadline to apply for the upcoming cohort is April 3rd. Companies that wish to apply can visit www.dcode42.com/apply or find more information at www.dcode42.com/programs.

 

SXSW Update: A Q&A with the City of Austin’s Mayor

on | in government |

With SXSW kicking off in Austin, we had the chance to speak with the City of Austin Mayor – Steve Adler – about the second annual Mayors Track and how technology helps Austin remain a wonderful place to live and visit.

Austin values diversity, creativity, the entrepreneurial spirit, the natural environment, and a laid back attitude. Adler has a goal to move the city forward in a way that is inclusive, innovative and intentionally improvisational. To move forward and handle the growth of the city, Mayor Adler relies on social innovation, social entrepreneurship, equity, and access.

Learn more about the City of Austin in the following Q&A.

What are some of your top memories from last year’s Mayors Track? Did you implement anything that you learned at the conference?

Last year, Austin and six other cities were named finalists for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge. The experience produced a public-private alliance in Austin that is working on using technology to reach underserved communities. Recently, Austin became one of five cities to win the Smart Cities Council Readiness Challenge Grant to develop affordable housing, improve mobility, and spark economic development for population groups that have traditionally been underserved.

Mayors are leading the way in innovation. How do you define innovation and how important is it to your overall charter to your constituents?

Innovation is just a new word for the way Austin has always done things. We like figuring out new ways of doing things and are good at change. Willie Nelson came here to retire, and he ended up not only revolutionizing country music, but the audience that listens to country music. Whole Foods revolutionized grocery stores. Alamo Drafthouse changed how we go to the movies. And SXSW changed, in the world’s best example of what Austin is, how we discover what is new in our culture.

What are two or three key takeaways that you hope the mayors bring back to their cities?

I hope other mayors take one thing back to their cities – innovation does not happen outside of government or in spite of government. We have to learn to adapt with our economies, and our economies have to learn how to adapt with us. In other words, we cannot disrupt each other and expect success. We must do this together.

Austin is known for their thriving startup community, what do you and/or the city do to encourage new businesses to set up shop in Austin?

We have a thriving startup community in Austin for reasons that go to the core character of this city. We love to change and improve things and support each other’s success. I cannot – and would not – change that. What I can do as mayor to support our tech community is to help our city government adapt to a changing economy and to do the basic blocking and tackling of government: work on transit and traffic congestion, make sure the roads are paved and the sidewalks are built, the trash is picked up, and affordable housing is built. Austin is a magical city, but we need to manage growth better to preserve the character of this city.

How is the City of Austin approaching data sharing or deriving insights from collaborating across departments?

We have a Chief Innovation Officer who is leading that mission and a Chief Equity Officer who makes sure everything we do is seen through the equity lens.

Have you considered how technology can and will play a role in creating healthier programs or services among your constituents?

Yes. In fact, we’re working with local leaders in the tech and healthcare fields to create a Healthcare Innovation Alliance to make sure underserved communities benefit from emerging technological innovations.


 

Thank you to Mayor Adler for your time and your hospitality in Austin! To learn more about how AWS helps local governments, click here. How are you investing in innovation? Tell us how your city is leveraging the AWS Cloud for a chance to win $50,000 in AWS credits.

 

Department of Veterans Affairs Issues AWS a FISMA High General Support System ATO

on | in government |

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has issued Amazon Web Services (AWS) a Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) High General Support System Authority to Operate (ATO) for AWS GovCloud (US), as well as a FISMA Moderate GSS ATO for the US East and West Regions.

This validation of a secure environment to run highly sensitive government workloads is important to the VA since they work with patient data, and protecting this data is critical to their mission to make a difference for Veterans. The FISMA High ATO for AWS GovCloud (US) will allow the VA to continue leveraging the cloud to enable their mission.

“We are honored to team with the VA on their journey to the cloud. VA’s decision to embrace cloud will have a positive, direct impact on our Veterans, as IT costs are reduced while functionality increases. We look forward to continuing this critical effort with the VA,” said Doug VanDyke, General Manager, Civilian Government & Nonprofits, Amazon Web Services Worldwide Public Sector.

Moving to the cloud brings many benefits to the VA including:

  • Efficient and modern digital experiences
  • Cost-savings by provisioning servers on-demand
  • Rapid software and product development and deployment cycles
  • Modern service-delivery capability
  • Zero downtime maintenance windows
  • Increased operational flexibility
  • Faster identification and resolution of security issues

In addition to a FISMA High General Support System ATO from the VA, AWS GovCloud (US) has also received a P-ATO from the Joint Authorization Board (JAB) under the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) High baseline. And recently, the Region received a JAB-issued FedRAMP High P-ATO for three new services: Amazon RDS for MySQL, Oracle, and PostgresSQL, Amazon CloudWatch Logs, and AWS CloudTrail.