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Compliance in the AWS Cloud

As a worldwide public cloud provider, AWS operates in many different countries and is subject to a variety of rules and regulations enforced by governments and compliance standards. Depending on the type of business that you operate, there are possibly many different levels of compliance you will have to adhere to when operating in the AWS cloud. Financial, health, and government institutions have strict rules and regulations that must be followed by their clients. In addition, your own company may have specific internal rules and regulations they want to follow.

Many countries in the world are enacting laws, regulations, and mandates in serious attempts to protect the privacy of personal data and the security of corporate information and computer systems. The new data protection laws place the burden of protection and security on the custodian of that data; that is where the data is stored when the data is transferred from source to destination.

The cloud providers have contractual obligations to ensure that when organizations have data records hosted in their cloud, they can adhere to the promises and commitments made in the SLA. Some of the most common compliance regulations that AWS has been successfully audited against include the compliance standards listed in Table 1-3.

Table 1-3 AWS Supports Many Compliance Standards


Scope of Operation

Purpose of Protection

Legal Status



Personal information



Financial industry

Personal information



Publicly traded companies




Payment card industry


Industry regulation



Personal information


Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act—Secures the privacy of individual health information records in the United States.

Gramm-Leachy-Billy Act—Mandates protection of customer information by financial industries.

Sarbanes-Oxley—Ensures the integrity of financial operations of publicly traded companies.

PCI DSS—Ensures the processing integrity of credit card data or authentication data.

GDPR—Protects privacy and personal data for all citizens of the EU. Amazon has a decent compliance page at https://aws.amazon.com/compliance/, which has details about all the AWS certifications and attestations that it has achieved or supports. If you are bound by a specific compliance standard, one of your first steps should be to review the AWS services that are available for each compliance standard, as shown in Figure 1-11.


Figure 1-11 Check the AWS compliance page to see what services are supported

Playing in the AWS Sandbox

AWS makes it easy to “try before you buy,” frequently doling out promotional credits to developers. Even if you are not a developer, every new AWS customer gets limited access to nearly every AWS service for free (Amazon calls this the “free tier”) during the first year. This is a great way to experiment with AWS. The only thing you must provide is a credit card that won’t be charged unless you choose to use resources that the free tier doesn’t cover. After the first year has passed, you’ll start accruing charges for every service you use; any AWS resources that you built during the first year remain in your account but start accruing charges.

In addition, AWS has several free hands-on labs. You can sign up for QwikLabs at https://run.qwiklabs.com/home?locale=en and carry out a variety of AWS tasks in the AWS cloud.

Figure 1-12 illustrates some of the learnig and labs that are available from QwikLabs.


Figure 1-12 QwikLabs has more than 20 completely free labs for AWS services

Running experiments, and performing labs raises additional questions that will help further your AWS cloud knowledge and experience.

To access the companion videos, register your book at informit.com/register.

What’s the Problem That Needs to Be Solved?

Typical large organizations run hundreds or thousands of applications on thousands of virtual servers. Which applications can be moved to AWS? What should be prioritized?

Start with low value/low risk—It’s quite popular to suggest a starting point of high value and low risk when choosing your first application to move to the AWS cloud. Here’s a reality check: it’s probably going to take you 6 months or longer to move your application to the cloud. Choosing an application with low value provides a valuable timeline to do some additional planning and analysis before finalizing your application in its working form at AWS. I’ve seen many companies make the pronouncement that applications will be moving to the cloud quickly. It rarely happens successfully because there are so many things to learn and consider. Start with low value. Take your time, and select a working application that has been running successfully for a good time period. Then you can document your lessons learned and what to do differently the next time. The second and third application moved to the cloud generally will be much faster than the first application due to the lessons learned and experience gained.

Create a brand-new application first—The advantage of creating a completely new application at AWS means you are not constrained by anything, such as the type of database that must be used, the type of programming language that must be used, or the type of compute that must be used. Starting anew at AWS allows you to try out some of the new methods to host applications such as serviceless computing, create a mobile application using stateless components, or use DynamoDB instead of SQL. This is where the real learning about what the AWS cloud can do for you will really appear.

Try to solve a single problem—Do you need additional storage? Perhaps that’s a great starting point for your adventure in the cloud. Archiving files in S3 Glacier could be as simple as ordering a Snowball device, connecting it up to your network, filling up with files you’d like to archive, and shipping it back to AWS. This is an excellent first project to start working with AWS support, archiving records, and saving your company money.

Define a value proposition—Ideally, the move to AWS is long term and successful. Thousands of companies have been successful moving to AWS; you, too, can be successful. Start off with a defined value proposition that can be validated quickly, in a matter of months rather than years. For developing applications, you could sign up for AWS Cloud9, a cloud-hosted IDE that supports more than 40 programming languages, as shown in Figure 1-13. Armed with a browser, you can try your hand at developing applications at AWS.


Figure 1-13 Cloud9 IDE at AWS

Access to data records—The number-one problem with larger companies when starting to work with cloud providers is working through the internal politics to allow access to data from the cloud. Data record access, and the steps for successful access, should be considered before you move to the cloud:

  • How can we access our on-premise data from the cloud?

  • What records have to stay on-premise?

  • Are we bound by any compliance rules and regulations?

  • Is our data in the right format for what we need?

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