Australia to build Top Secret cloud in AWS for military and spooky users

Interoperability with US infrastructure a big selling point

Australia's government has announced its intention to build a Top Secret-rated cloud, with help from Amazon Web Services.

A government announcement states the cloud will be built in partnership with the Australian Signals Directorate – an agency responsible for foreign signals intelligence and cyber security.

The so-called TS Cloud will apparently be "purpose-built for Australia's Defence and National Intelligence Community agencies to securely host our country's most sensitive information." The cloud is touted as giving Australia the chance to "improve our ability to securely share and analyze our nation's most classified data at speed and at scale, and provides opportunities to harness leading technologies including artificial intelligence and machine learning."

Australia's defense comms networks will apparently become more resilient as a result of the deal, improving the nation's warfighting capacity.

Another promised benefit is support for "greater interoperability and deeper collaboration with the United States." Officials have stated that the cloud will be fully sovereign – but details of what's been done to make that a reality are absent.

The announcement states the cloud will require a spend of up to AUD$2 billion ($1.35 billion) over ten years. We understand that sum will cover the cost of building three dedicated datacenters, and establishing a local subsidiary of Amazon to run them and the cloud.

AWS declined to answer questions about arrangements in place to make this a sovereign cloud and referred us to the deputy PM, Richard Marles, who also serves as defence minister. We asked his office for info on where the cloud will be housed, who will own the infrastructure, payment arrangements, and whether the job was put to open tender. If we receive substantial info, we'll update this story.

The sovereignty matters for this cloud matter for three reasons, one of which is the sensitivity of the data that will be stored. That Australian government agencies have different definitions of sovereignty also matters, as meeting them all may or may not be required.

Lastly, we understand that one of the goals for Australia's cloud was interoperability with five eyes partners, and as AWS already built a Top Secret cloud for the US government, and the UK also uses Amazon for secret info, Andy Jassy's server rental service was an easy choice. We further understand that Microsoft decided not to bid as it couldn't match AWS's interoperability. How AWS ensures both sovereignty and interoperability is therefore a critical matter.

Australia's government – like many – has wavered between enthusiasm for cloud and caution as costs increased and security concerns became apparent.

This deal won't change that stance: The Register is aware of government agencies building on-prem private clouds – sometimes on open source platforms – so they can scour code to soothe their security worries. ®

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