Category: Education

What is Peacetech? A New Environment Brings New Opportunity

From Kenya to Colombia, Afghanistan to Indonesia, media and technology is being used in innovative ways to counter age-old drivers of conflict, ranging from election violence and inter-ethnic tension, to resource shortages and gender violence. The spread of technology is producing a transformation in conflict management and peacebuilding.

Peacetech is a new industry that brings together engineers and activists, MBAs and conflict experts, social scientists and data scientists to design, develop, and adapt new solutions to counter conflict and strive for peace. Technology can be used as a tool to mobilize people for peacebuilding and to create spaces for discussions. Peacetech can accelerate the development of solutions, distribute them faster, and engage more people in generating ideas and collaborative problem-solving.

For example, virtual reality (VR) has been used to generate empathy by creating brief but powerful immersive experiences, allowing the user to internalize a message. Analytics has been used in the field to assess cognitive, emotional, and behavioral dimensions related to conflict, providing new information and data visualization for decision makers. And social platforms, such as Skype, have been used to connect people worldwide with tutors to teach new languages, while providing empowering work opportunities to refugees.

C5 and PeaceTech Lab, along with support from AWS, are collaborating on the PeaceTech Accelerator, the first major international peacetech program powered by cloud innovation and dedicated to scaling startups around the world. The mission of the PeaceTech Accelerator is to produce innovative technology that manages, mitigates, predicts, or prevents conflicts.

“Today, people can send pictures, money, and information around the world with the click of a button,” said Sheldon Himelfarb, CEO, PeaceTech Lab. “Even in places experiencing some of the worst violence on earth, I see cell phones charging and air time selling. It’s up to each and every one of us to decide whether we use these tools to prolong conflict or build peace. The Accelerator is the embodiment of our commitment to support entrepreneurs who are dedicated to using their talents and technology for good.”

The PeaceTech Accelerator provides the mentorship and training needed to scale both for-profit and not-for-profit peacetech initiatives rapidly, securely, and cost-effectively to produce technology that can be used as platforms for peace.

Mentor sessions with AWS Solutions Architects at the PeaceTech Lab.

Learn more about the PeaceTech Lab and how to apply for the PeaceTech Accelerator here.

Dream Big for Your Students: Apply to the City on a Cloud Innovation Challenge

New to the City on the Cloud Innovation Challenge this year, we are opening the competition to school districts who are using the cloud to enrich learning, help teachers reach more students, and improve school or district operations.

Districts and schools can now submit applications for a chance to receive AWS promotional credits to start or continue their projects under the three challenge categories: Best Practices, Partners in Innovation, and Dream Big. The deadline to submit is May 12. Need ideas?

Through our work with over 7,000 education institutions globally, we have seen schools provide the best learning experience possible for their students. From bring-your-own-device and virtual desktops to learning management platforms and student data analytics, AWS offers tools to ensure that every student gets the attention they need to thrive in the classroom.

For example, the University of Maryland University College (UMUC) uses Amazon WorkSpaces in a virtual environment. Amazon WorkSpaces is a cloud-based, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solution that helps higher education institutions and K12 school districts give students and instructors consistent access to teaching and learning software on their own devices. Students can learn anywhere, on the device of their choice, with the software tools required to complete assignments.

In addition to virtualized learning, the cloud also brings schools noticeable cost savings. Gibraltar Area Schools, a rural school district serving 600 K-12 children located on the district campus in Fish Creek, Wisconsin, have spent less than half of what they would on physical services over the past five years with AWS. The district has saved time, money, and resources by turning to the cloud.

Another area where educational institutions think and dream big is with data analytics.

Educational institutions have a tremendous amount of data that they collect on a daily basis, but often districts don’t have the capacity (time or resources) to do anything with it.

Ivy Tech Community College (ITCC) leverages Amazon Redshift to analyze student data proactively and help students who are at risk of dropping out. “We have an analysis kit we run every day, looking at data, comparing patterns over previous years’ information, and in a matter of seconds, we can tell if a student is likely to succeed or fail. The results have been phenomenal,” said Lige Hensley, CTO, ITCC. ITCC can now predict with over 80% accuracy which students are likely to fail a course within the first two weeks of class.

AWS has tools that can help districts get data from different sources into one place, so that they, like ITCC, can use data in the service of learning to help guide decisions about instruction, school administration, and operations. AWS also has services that make it simple and cost-effective to analyze all your data using your existing business intelligence tools.

With the AWS Cloud, schools, districts, and companies providing educational applications can access industry-shaping technology at an affordable cost, no matter what the scale. Apply for our City on the Cloud Innovation Challenge and let us know your big ideas around data and how AWS can help you get there!

How to Buy Cloud for Your Public Sector Organization

Buying cloud computing services takes different skills and strategies than buying traditional IT. Are you ready to move to the cloud but looking for practical guidance? Not sure where to start? We’re here to help you select the right acquisition approach for your agency.

As your agency is considering moving to the cloud, there are important topics to consider, which include justifying your move to AWS, organizational and cultural implications, purchasing strategies, architectural considerations, and further optimization to enable innovation and save costs down the line.

  1. Scope the project in order to justify your decision: Early planning, communication, and buy-in are essential. Understanding the motivation (time, cost, availability, etc.) is key and will be different for each organization.
  2. Map out your acquisition strategies: Well-designed procurement strategies and cloud-centric contract vehicles will make a difference. Getting procurement ‘right,’ will lead to a portfolio of cloud technology and services that truly realizes the benefits of cloud computing.
  3. Structure the deal to save costs down the line: The shift from buying hardware to accessing cloud services makes technology faster, easier and less expensive. With AWS, you can use the spot market, save when you reserve, and only pay for what you use. Structure your deal to make use of On-Demand Instances, Reserved Instances, Dedicated Instances, and Spot Instances.
  4. Consider implementation strategies to help you get more from your cloud deployment: When choosing to take advantage of the cloud, it is important to consider creating a cloud-first policy for your organization, which requires the consideration of cloud before taking an on-premises approach.
  5. Organize to move into production: Define and identify organizational structures and roles, required competencies, competency gaps, training needs, and staffing and organizational changes required to build an agile IT organization that is capable of effective cloud adoption. An organizational model that is optimized for cloud adoption should be established for the delivery and operation of cloud-based solutions.

Discover more details about the steps you need to take to migrate your government or education institution to the cloud – from design to implementation.

Learn more about acquisition and procurement strategies at the AWS Public Sector Summit June 12-14 in Washington, DC.

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

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.

Improving Security with Cloud Computing: Six Advantages of Cloud Security

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.

AWS Launches the Fourth City on a Cloud Innovation Challenge; Opens Contest to Schools

AWS launched the fourth City on a Cloud Innovation Challenge, a global program recognizing how local and regional governments are innovating on behalf of their citizens around the globe. New to the competition this year, we are opening the competition to school districts who are using the cloud to enrich learning, help teachers reach more students, and improve school or district operations.

“Through the City on a Cloud Innovation Challenge, we’ve watched our customers take action on an idea, grow a program to better serve their citizens, and raise the bar on what is possible when they dream big,” said Teresa Carlson, VP of Worldwide Public Sector, Amazon Web Services. “This year, we are excited to add school districts to the challenge, as we’ve seen some innovative uses of the cloud and want to recognize these pioneers around the world.”

Governments and school districts can now compete in three award categories:

  • Best Practices: This award category will recognize governments and school districts leveraging the AWS Cloud to implement a program or service on behalf of their citizens or students.
  • Partners in Innovation: This award category will recognize technology partners implementing a program or service on behalf of a government or school district.
  • Dream Big: This award category provides cloud credits to help governments and school districts implement big ideas through technology.

Winners will receive up to $50,000 in AWS promotional credits to help achieve their mission with the cloud. Click here to apply today (the nomination takes around five minutes)! The City on a Cloud Innovation Challenge closes on Friday, May 12th.

Governments and schools from around the world are investing in innovation and using the AWS Cloud, like the City of Chicago (2015 Dream Big Award Winner), which uses an open-source platform to provide real-time weather, road closures, transit data, residential complaints, and other information in the area so people can plan accordingly.

Another winner is the New York Public Library (2016 Best Practices winner), which makes available 677,496 items spanning a wide range of eras, geography, and media, drawings, manuscripts, maps, photographs, rare books, videos, audio, and more. Encompassing the subject strengths of the vast collections of NYPL, these materials represent the applied sciences, fine and decorative arts, history, performing arts, and social sciences.

Since launching the City on a Cloud Innovation Challenge in 2014, we received several applications focused on bringing the Internet of Things into cities, many of which are leveraging or plan to leverage the AWS – Intel IoT Platform. This joint platform allows customers to derive insights from their existing data by deploying Intel IoT Gateways along with an ecosystem of compatible sensors and devices. These hardware devices include software built with the AWS IoT Device SDK to connect them to AWS IoT and, ultimately, AWS endpoints. From there, customers can build software to connect devices from their cities and school districts to AWS services and gain value through IoT data analytics.

If you have an idea that you want to showcase and expand or make a reality – apply now!

This year’s winners will be announced at the AWS Public Sector Summit in Washington, DC June 12-14, 2017. Learn more about past winners by visiting our City on a Cloud Innovation Map.

So what would you do with $50,000 in AWS promotional credits? Tell us how for a chance to win and help your city or school become smart, connected, and sustainable with AWS.

Get ideas and learn more about the challenge and watch the 2016 video here.

Expanding Cybersecurity Education with the Commonwealth of Virginia and Virginia Tech

AWS has joined the Commonwealth of Virginia and Virginia Tech to support the Cyber Range initiative with scalable cloud infrastructure and to collaborate on cybersecurity educational efforts, enabling the Cyber Range with both content and a closed network for hands-on exercises, competitions, and other simulations.

“We are thrilled to be a part of this important initiative in Virginia, which is one we hope will spark similar programs across the country,” said Teresa Carlson, Vice President of Worldwide Public Sector for AWS. “It’s critical that we have a skilled cybersecurity workforce to meet the growing demands of the field. Security is ‘job zero’ for us at AWS, and we are excited to help inspire the next generation of cyber experts.”

Investments and public-private partnerships to train a cyber workforce with technology like the AWS Cloud can help better equip the next generation of cyber experts. By using AWS, the virtual facility will be well positioned to provide Virginia educators access to cybersecurity courseware, as well as a hands-on laboratory environment for students.

At the Commonwealth’s inaugural Cyber Fusion event and Virginia Cyber Cup Challenge on February 24-25 at Virginia Military Institute, Teresa joined a panel on the challenges and opportunities confronting the United States government, economy, and society in cyberspace and shared AWS’s commitment to growing the cyber and cloud-enabled workforce. See photos from the event below.

One way that we are doing this is through our global AWS Educate Program, which provides an academic gateway for the next generation of IT professionals. Through AWS, universities around the world access curriculum grants and learning content that give their students access to cloud technology. This means that new college grads can learn how to work with cloud computing before they graduate from college.

In addition to training the next-generation of cyber professionals, we provide government and our other customers with the most powerful, flexible, and affordable tools and capabilities to build secure systems. The AWS Cloud infrastructure has been architected to be one of the most flexible and secure cloud computing environments available today. AWS customers inherit all the best practices of AWS policies, architecture, and operational processes built to satisfy the requirements of our most security sensitive customers. We provide a wide variety of best practices documents, encryption tools, and other guidance our customers can leverage in delivering application-level security measures. AWS partners also offer hundreds of tools and features to help customers to meet their security objectives, ranging from network security, configuration management, access control, and data encryption.

Through relationships and programs like the Cyber Range, we are working to fill the cyber knowledge gap, improve hiring practices, and ultimately build a trusted workforce of capable cyber employees.

Reimagining Course Delivery with Amazon WorkSpaces

Instructor Jeff Christen from Cornell University had his own assignment – develop a Masters-level course through Cornell’s Information Science Department on “Business Intelligence (BI) Systems,” in only three weeks.

The goal of the class was to give students a solid foundation and understanding of BI concepts including dimensional data modeling, ETL design, and data visualizations. With a short turnaround time, Jeff worked with Marty Sullivan, Cloud Engineer at Cornell, to come up with a plan to determine how to have a hands-on learning experience for this pilot course.


“We did not have access to a computer lab, so we were facing having students install software on their own computer, which would not have been an easy set up,” said Marty. “Making sure the software was compatible on whatever the device the students use, whether it is a Mac, PC, or Linux machine, would have been a support nightmare.”

In an effort to avoid support issues, get students up and running on day one of the class, and provide the flexibility needed for the modern student, Jeff and Marty chose Amazon WorkSpaces for the pilot course. Each student had their own Amazon WorkSpaces with Oracle SQL Developer, the WhereScape RED ETL tool, and Tableau desktop installed.


Once the software packages were installed and configured in the WorkSpaces image, new WorkSpaces could be deployed or rebuilt for students in around 20 minutes to over 40 WorkSpaces in the class. Prior to the start of the semester, each student received an email with instructions on how to log in and download the app. At the first lecture, Jeff asked the students to raise their hand if they were able to connect to their Workspace. “This was the moment I was dreading, but every student raised their hand!” Marty said.


By using AWS, Jeff was able to focus on creating a course that provided hands-on experience whether in the classroom, in the dorms, or in the dining hall – on whatever device. “Students can study and work together on their projects anywhere, on Macs, PCs, and tablets. The flexibility for them is the icing on the cake,” said Jeff.

Jeff was able to do live demos in the class and students could follow along in real-time, not having to take notes and do it after class, which provided a powerful teaching and learning experience. It also saved Jeff hours of time that would have been spent in office hours configuring computers and not working on the course material.

“Students get real hands-on experience, using real industry tools with Amazon WorkSpaces. They aren’t just taking notes in class, but following me in real time. It gets rid of traditional classroom barriers,” said Jeff.

In addition to several individual assignments focused on core skills, the students also participated in a team project. Project teams consisted of 4-5 students and each was one of three BI projects using real-world Cornell business challenges and associated datasets, such as transportation and dining on campus.

“We can rethink how we teach with Amazon WorkSpaces. We can offer more to students – more interesting class content and more interactivity – without adding complexity for instructors. The sky is the limit,” said Jeff.

Learn more about Amazon WorkSpaces for Education.

Lessons Learned from Migrating Mission-Critical Academic and Administrative Systems to the Cloud

On-demand compute, storage, and database services help higher education IT teams build secure environments for mission-critical applications, freeing them to focus on student success.

It’s more important than ever to provide students with resources where they are, so students have access to everything from their Learning Management System (LMS) to payment systems with just one log on.

Idaho State University (ISU) reached a decision point where they needed to refresh their hardware locally or look to the cloud as an alternative solution to host their LMS. They had been hosting Moodle, an open-source learning platform, on premises for ten years. After exploring the available options, they made the decision to migrate Moodle to the AWS Cloud.

By bringing their campus onto the cloud, ISU was able to reduce IT support costs and free staff from technical work, while still providing the services their students need to be successful.

“We explored what we could do, and we made the decision that the cloud brought increased cost savings, better redundancy, and allowed us to offload the maintenance required to manage our existing hardware. The cloud was well worth the initial effort,” said Blake Beck, Director of Educational Technologies and eISU at ISU.

The eISU department is responsible for the management of the school’s LMS (Moodle) and other technology associated with teaching and learning for 13,000 unique student users at ISU. Ninety-six percent of the University’s courses utilize Moodle for assignments, testing, and course materials.

At ISU, they learned a few tips during their migration to help other colleges and universities looking to migrate systems to the cloud.

  1. Let go of the way you think it should be. “Our biggest hurdle was getting over how we thought things should be based on how we did it in the past. Once we let go of the way we thought it had to be and embraced the AWS strategy, things finally moved in the right direction and everything fell into place,” said Blake.
  2. Get others on board early. One of the challenges the department had as pioneers was working with their own staff. By getting others comfortable with the cloud, they began a cultural shift inside the university. Other departments, like security, networking, and backup, recognized that more services were heading this way in the future.
  3. Enjoy the simple things. “Initially, when we sized our front-end web servers, we thought three web servers would be more than adequate, but we needed more to have the ability to process all requests. So we spun up a fourth and then a fifth web server in a matter of minutes. That was the beauty— it was as simple as can be,” commented Blake. Being able to spin up and load balance quickly was key for the department. They did not have to buy another front end web server, instead they had high compute capacity and enough storage for whatever their needs were in minutes.
  4. Focus on student experience. ISU already provided a positive experience for its students, so they wanted to maintain that for students and staff without a noticeable shift in the system. They pulled together a steering committee of faculty to have an open forum for comments. They wanted a seamless transition, keeping the stellar uptime their students expected.

ISU migrated Moodle from their on-premises server to Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2). Additionally, they use Amazon Aurora, AWS Lambda, Amazon CloudWatch, and Amazon Simple Notification Service (Amazon SNS). For networking, they are using Amazon Route 53 to host their subdomain and have set up a VPN for secure connections to do maintenance on the EC2 instances. They are also using AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) and AWS CloudTrail to help implement security access and monitoring.

ISU saw huge gains from their migration to the cloud behind the scenes, including cost savings, redundancy, reliability, and a better disaster recovery posture. “We took a big leap forward for us in redundancy and disaster recovery. We are a much better position than we ever were hosting on premises,” said Blake. “A water leak in the data center could have brought us to our knees. We were taking a gamble. We have made a quantum leap forward.”

With two successful semesters completed, the university is looking for other ways to leverage the cloud on campus. Take a tour of how other higher education institutions use AWS campus-wide, from classrooms to dorm rooms and beyond.

Save the Date: AWS Public Sector Summit is Coming Soon to Washington, D.C

We are already looking forward to our eighth annual AWS Public Sector Summit in Washington, DC. This year’s event will take place June 12-14, 2017 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Registration will be open soon, so stay tuned for more information on how to save your spot.

As we begin the countdown to the Summit, we wanted to give you a glimpse into what you can expect this June.

What to Expect in 2017

  • Over 100+ breakout sessions on topics, such as DevOps, Big Data, Internet of Things, security and compliance, adoption models, scientific computing, open data, and more.
  • Two keynotes with a star line up of CIOs. View some of the keynote videos from the 2016 event.
  • Direct access to AWS technologists
  • Pre-Day with bootcamps and deep dive workshops
  • Networking opportunities with partners and peers

Mark your Calendar

Mark your calendar for one of the largest gatherings of public sector technology leaders in 2017. More details below!

Date: June 12-14, 2017

Location: Walter E. Washington Convention Center – 801 Mt Vernon Pl NW, Washington, DC 20001