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The public cloud isn't just for the private sector -- one of the first U.S. federal government agencies to make use of Amazon Web Services also runs outside the walled gardens of GovCloud.
The Federal Register, which describes itself as the "newspaper of the federal government," produces a daily volume of government records as well as records slated for public inspection before official publication.
Since 1935, the official Federal Register has been a bound physical book produced by the Government Printing Office. In recent years, efforts have begun to convert the Federal Register publication process into an online service based on Amazon Web Services (AWS).
AWS government customers can opt for GovCloud, a walled-off region of the AWS cloud that specializes in highly sensitive workloads, but the Federal Register consists of public data, and therefore isn't as subject to strict security requirements, according to Bob Burbach, one of two contractors tasked with creating FederalRegister.gov, which also runs on AWS.
Bob Burbachcontractor, FederalRegister.gov
Burbach and business partner Andrew Carpenter were working for an educational nonprofit in the San Francisco area in 2009 when they entered a contest under the Open Government initiative and created GovPulse, a way to present data from Data.gov in a publicly accessible way. The two were then hired as contractors to build GovPulse, as FederalRegister.org, and it was launched in 2010 and has always run on AWS.
"Given that we launched the site only three months after we wrote the first bit of code, and there were a lot of unknowns because nobody knew what the uptake of this would be, AWS gave us the ability to be really agile with how we approached the project," Burbach said.
Last year, FederalRegister.gov saw nearly 15 million page views and 6.5 million unique visitors; in 2014, it has seen 11.3 million page views and about 5.2 million unique visits.
Daily updates to the Federal Register are uploaded to the Simple Storage Service and from there Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) "worker" instances index the data, sort it into a searchable MySQL database and present it through a Web application also hosted on EC2.
Move to RDS planned, official legislation in the works
While FederalRegister.gov has been publicly available since July 2010, work remains on the project. At the time it was designed in early 2009, for example, the Relational Database Service (RDS) didn't exist (it wouldn't be launched until October 2009).
"As part of our new infrastructure we're going to be making use of the services that have come online and are very stable," Burbach said. "We'll be moving to the RDS system, and using that for our database systems and point-in-time backups."
RDS will also offer multi-availability zone failover, which will be built into the redesign for all EC2 instances. Burbach and Carpenter plan to use Amazon's Virtual Private Cloud so fewer EC2 back-end instances are exposed to the public Internet.
Meanwhile, despite its popularity, FederalRegister.org remains an unofficial copy of public documents. The House of Representatives has passed a bill called the Federal Register Modernization Act, which would make FederalRegister.org an official source of public records. It will be presented before the Senate in the coming months.