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cloud.gov is now FedRAMP Authorized for use by federal agencies

The cloud.gov logo The fed ramp logo The fed ramp ready indicator

We’re delighted to announce that cloud.gov is now FedRAMP Authorized, which enables agencies to quickly transition their web-based services to efficient and easy-to-use cloud hosting. FedRAMP Authorized status marks completion of a comprehensive security and compliance assessment that enables federal agencies to start using cloud.gov with significantly reduced effort. cloud.gov is a government-customized hosting platform that takes care of technical infrastructure and security compliance requirements.

Now that cloud.gov has FedRAMP Authorized status, teams can start using cloud.gov in production with less upfront work, and using cloud.gov in turn enables them to deliver services faster. In this post, we’re going to explain more about what this means — and if you’re part of a team interested in using cloud.gov, we’d like to hear from you!

What is cloud.gov?

cloud.gov gives federal agencies a fast and easy way to host and update websites (and other web applications, such as APIs), so their employees and contractors can focus on their missions instead of wrangling the infrastructure and compliance requirements common to federal systems. For all the details about how cloud.gov works, including our fully-public technical documentation for users, see the cloud.gov website. We’ll also explain more below, including how cloud.gov handles the majority of compliance requirements for customers.

How FedRAMP helps federal agencies use cloud.gov

Many agencies are interested in using cloud.gov, and historically each agency would have to conduct their own in-depth review of cloud.gov’s security and compliance before allowing their teams to use it. This is important but labor-intensive work that can make it hard for agencies to invest in trying a cloud service, even if they expect it will be useful.

FedRAMP (the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program) solves this shared problem. FedRAMP coordinates a Joint Authorization Board (JAB) made up of the three Chief Information Officers of the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and the General Services Administration. Together, they and their teams assess cloud services using rigorous standards, and if the cloud service satisfies the requirements, they all endorse a Provisional Authority to Operate (P-ATO). Then, any federal agency can leverage this P-ATO (which comes with detailed security documentation from the cloud service) instead of needing to do all their own independent research.

cloud.gov has received a JAB P-ATO at the Moderate impact level. (Federal systems are categorized as Low, Moderate, or High impact, so this means agencies can easily use cloud.gov to host Low and Moderate systems, which are the majority of federal systems.) When an agency accepts this P-ATO, teams at that agency can leverage the P-ATO for the systems they build. Because cloud.gov takes care of a substantial number of compliance requirements for federal systems, each new system built on cloud.gov has a radically shortened path to achieving Authority to Operate from their agency. In other words: teams can develop and deploy new and updated web applications much faster, supporting agile delivery.

How cloud.gov helps your team achieve its mission

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. Your development team sets up the application on cloud.gov, and cloud.gov handles the security, maintenance, and compliance of the underlying platform. Here’s what that looks like:

You set up and maintain your web application code.

You can run your application on the programming language stacks that cloud.gov maintains. Or you can run it on a custom programming language stack that you maintain.

Your application can user services cloud.gov provides including storage, databases, and CDN services. You can also create and use your own services to meet any special requirements.

The cloud.gov team maintains the security and availability of the platform. We update the operating systems, monitor the platform, and log everything.

This runs on top of Amazon Web Services (GovCloud), which provisions and maintains the hardware.

This means your team can focus on your unique code instead of managing infrastructure, which reduces the amount of technical work you have to do. And as explained above, cloud.gov substantially reduces the work and time required to get Authority to Operate from your agency for your system. You only need to prove compliance for your applications. Out of the 325 security controls required for Moderate-impact systems, cloud.gov handles 269 controls, and 41 controls are a shared responsibility (where cloud.gov provides part of the requirement, and your applications provide the rest). You only need to provide full implementations for the remaining 15 controls, such as ensuring you make data backups and using reliable DNS (Domain Name System) name servers for your websites.

A bar chart showing the portion of security controls handled by customers, cloud.gov, and shared between the two.

cloud.gov is also a building block for vendors and contractors that supply services to federal agencies. They can submit proposals to agencies for services to be built on top of cloud.gov, which benefit from these reduced technical and compliance burdens.

We hope that successful use of cloud.gov helps agencies grow more comfortable and familiar with cloud technology, enabling deeper partnerships with both industry cloud providers as well as vendors and contractors that prefer to build using cloud platforms.

A few of the improvements we made along the way

We first announced cloud.gov in May 2015 after two months of adapting the open source Cloud Foundry project for 18F’s needs. Since then, we’ve been building cloud.gov with FedRAMP Authorization in mind, while using it under our own agency authorization. We began preparing for the FedRAMP process in March 2016 (the date we engaged our Third Party Assessment Organization), and we established FedRAMP Ready status in May 2016. We set an ambitious goal of achieving FedRAMP Authorization in six months, using the new FedRAMP Accelerated process.

The FedRAMP assessment process is thorough! As part of our work to precisely document how we fulfilled all the requirements (with the help of an accredited Third Party Assessment Organization, Veris, that audited our work), we needed to further improve technical and operational aspects of cloud.gov. We added more monitoring and alerting, developed and ran additional team trainings, wrote checklists and automated scripts to make processes consistent and repeatable, formalized many team policies and procedures in writing, and much more.

We officially began our review with the JAB teams in August 2016, and we achieved the FedRAMP Authorization less than six months after the reviews began (January 2017), which is in line with FedRAMP’s estimates for the FedRAMP Accelerated process. This is a success for the FedRAMP team, which has been carefully improving their process to help make more cloud services available to government teams. We appreciate the work of the FedRAMP Program Management Office, who guided us through each step of the process.

Learn more

Over the next few months, we’ll explain more about cloud.gov, give examples of live federal systems built on cloud.gov, and share lessons we’ve learned to help other cloud service providers go through the FedRAMP process. cloud.gov is the first completely open source service with FedRAMP Authorization, and we’ll write more about our open source work (you’re invited to reuse and contribute to it). If you’d like to get these updates, sign up for the cloud.gov mailing list.

If you’re interested in using cloud.gov, we invite you to get in touch with us and learn more on our website, including how agency teams can try out cloud.gov for free. If you’d like to see our P-ATO documentation package, you can request it from FedRAMP.

If you’re part of a vendor or contractor interested in using cloud.gov, ask your agency partners to evaluate this option.

For press inquiries, email press@gsa.gov.

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