Teresa Carlson: Changing the game for cloud services

As vice president of the worldwide public sector at Amazon Web Services, Eagle Award winner Teresa Carlson led the company's entry into the federal market.

Teresa Carlson

People used to think of Amazon as a place for online shopping, and it certainly still fills that role. But the company has also emerged as a leading cloud provider for businesses big and small, and it is fast becoming a major player in the federal IT space as well. That last evolution is due in large part to the leadership of Teresa Carlson, vice president of the worldwide public sector at Amazon Web Services.

Under Carlson’s guidance, AWS’ GovCloud effort continued to expand in 2012, allowing a growing number of agencies and customers to move workloads to the cloud while meeting federal security and compliance requirements.

AWS also delivered 149 new services, features and applications to its more than 150 government customers and 1,500 educational institutions, responding rapidly to agency leaders and ultimately helping agencies be more efficient with their spending.

Those numbers will likely continue to grow because the General Services Administration’s Infrastructure as a Service blanket purchase agreement allows agencies to easily buy AWS’ offerings.

For her contributions in these areas and others, Carlson was recognized as a 2013 Eagle winner. Two Eagle award winners -- one from government and one from industry -- are selected from among the winners of the Federal 100 award, which recognizes individuals who made a significant impact on federal IT.

"2012 was an awesome year for federal IT. You see the government making drastic changes in how it is utilizing and re-envisioning federal IT from a mission-driven perspective," said Carlson, who left Microsoft for AWS in December 2010.

"It means a great deal for me to be recognized as a leader in this space," she added.

And in the space space, too: In 2012, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory used AWS to stream images and video from the Mars Curiosity rover to millions watching back home. AWS also transformed 200 terabytes of gene sequencing data into a publicly available dataset through the 1000 Genomes Project with the National Institutes of Health. And AWS entrenched the Obama for America Campaign and the Presidential Inauguration Committee firmly in the cloud.

Although the bulk of Carlson’s contributions to the federal IT community came via AWS and making cloud services more mainstream, she also helped drive the TechAmerica Foundation’s Big Data Commission, which released an important report on big data and federal agencies in late 2012.

"She lined up Amazon’s resources and worked across several companies to deliver a report that highlighted the big promise of big data," said Dan Chenok, executive director of the IBM Center for the Business of Government and a Federal 100 awards judge.

Carlson co-led the writing of the report, which provided use cases of big data in action to government agencies still grappling with what big data is and what to do with it. The government is the largest producer of data in the world, she said, and while helping agencies cash in on potentially hidden treasures within billions of lines of code is good for business at AWS, it is also good for taxpaying citizens.

"The thing about big data is that tools like this can affect the government in a massive way," Carlson said. And while "big data" remains a vague buzzword to some agencies, Carlson noted that just a few years ago, the term "cloud" generated similar confusion. Now it’s widely recognized as an efficient way to do business.

With private-sector support, continued collaboration and new partnerships in the public sector, Carlson said big data might be another way to "transform the government through more efficient practices that help move the government forward."

And AWS, she added, has a lot going on to ensure that such changes keep coming.

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