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Microsoft and AWS Expand Their Clouds, Scrap over Public Sector

Microsoft and Amazon Web Services (AWS) this week took turns touting their respective clouds' footprints and public sector credentials, often at each other's expense.

Both companies were sponsors of the IACP Conference in San Diego, Calif., which is hosted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and provides a showcase for solutions aimed at law enforcement and public sector organizations. The event was the backdrop for a series of announcements from the two companies seemingly geared at one-upping each other.

First, AWS on Monday announced the opening of a new region in Columbus, Ohio, its fifth in the United States and the third it's launched this year after Seoul and Mumbai. The new Ohio region has three availability zones, bringing AWS' cloud infrastructure roster to 38 availability zones and 14 regions. It also has plans to open four more regions in France, the United Kingdom, Canada and China. AWS evangelist Jeff Barr provides an exhaustive list of services supported in Ohio region in this blog post.

AWS touted the Ohio region as a boon for the area's public sector and education customers. "Customers and area citizens alike will benefit from new technology opportunities in state and local government organizations, and within the growing startup and developer community in Ohio. AWS looks forward to working closely with area businesses and public sector organizations to grow a cloud ecosystem," the company said in an announcement. "AWS will also work with area students and teachers to help build the next generation of cloud computing workers."

Microsoft in turn detailed plans to offer four additional cloud regions specifically for government entities. Two new regions for the Department of Defense (DoD) -- one in the central U.S. and the other in the East Coast -- will launch by the end of 2016, according to a blog post Tuesday by Jason Zander, corporate vice president of Microsoft Azure. Two more Azure Government regions are slated to open in 2017 -- one in Arizona and one in Texas.

These four government-specific regions are in addition to four other general-purpose Azure regions that Microsoft is planning in France and Korea. All told, Microsoft has 30 live cloud regions worldwide compared to AWS' 14 -- a discrepancy that Microsoft likes to bring up -- and two live dedicated U.S. government regions (in Virginia and Iowa) compared to AWS' one (in the West Coast).

"[O]ur bi-coastal, government-only datacenters offer data replication in multiple locations within the country for business continuity," Zander wrote. "By comparison, the other major cloud provider only offers one government cloud region in the Pacific Northwest."

However, it should be noted that comparing the two companies' region counts is complicated by their varying definitions of the term "region." Microsoft uses the word to describe a single location that contains one or more datacenters. Microsoft says it has over 100 cloud datacenters, but not how many are located in each region. Meanwhile, AWS uses "region" to describe a single location that contains one or more availability zones, which in turn contain one or more datacenters. The argument could be made that AWS' "availability zone" is more comparable to Microsoft's "region."

AWS' Barr pointed out the distinction in his blog, citing "some industry-wide confusion about the difference between Regions and Availability Zones of late."

AWS lists its regions here and Microsoft its Azure regions here.

Microsoft and AWS have also been taking turns comparing their respective clouds' public sector credentials. For example, according to AWS earlier this month, its cloud is in use by about 7,000 educational, 22,000 nonprofit and 2,300 government institutions. Microsoft's Zander countered Tuesday that its Azure Government Cloud is used by about 6 million people across 7,000 organizations in different levels of government.

AWS also announced that it now complies with the Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) standard in six states, the latest being Washington. Zander on Tuesday said that Microsoft meets that standard in 23 states.

About the Author

Gladys Rama is the senior site producer for RCPmag.com and senior editor of AWSInsider.net.