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Well Engineered use of AWS by Recovery and Transparency Board (RATB)


After speaking with Shawn Kingsberry in preparations for our 4 April Government Big Data Forum I realized their use of Amazon Web Services (AWS) may be of very high interest to our readers and went about looking for more info online to see what was publicly available. I was ecstatic to see a well written use case for much of it is on the AWS website. That write-up includes a nice graphic that is helpful to understanding how things were done.

Since this is provided by AWS as a way of articulating their special contributions it does not go into the many other services and components required to make this work. But many of those components are probably modular and exchangable with other capabilities. So this overview is probably a great way to get a baseline on what the RATB architecture is.

With that, the following is from:

AWS Case Study: and AWS Bring Transparency to the Cloud

The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board (RATB) was established when Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in February, 2009. To ensure against waste, fraud, and abuse, the RATB was tasked with developing a Website which met the following goals:

  • Provide easily accessible information to the public on Recovery spending and results
  • Promote official data in public debate
  • Provide fair and open access to Recovery opportunities
  • Enable public accountability for Recovery spending
  • Promote an understanding of the local impact of Recovery spending

The resulting Website is

The RATB originally intended to use Amazon Web Services (AWS) only for development, testing, and as failover, but, says Jim Warren, RATB Chief Information Officer, “When AWS outperformed our on-premises solution at a fraction of the cost, the prime contractor Smartronix and its lead sub-contractor Synteractive, provided a compelling justification for the RATB to host on AWS’s platform.”

According to Mr. Warren, Smartronix selected AWS because of the flexibility provided by AWS’s Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) model; track record of providing infrastructure for large-scale commercial projects; focus on cost-effectiveness and a pay-as-you-go-model that allowed Smartronix to control costs; commitment to security and reliability; and its FISMA Low certification.

The RATB now uses the following AWS services: Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), Amazon Elastic Block Storage (Amazon EBS), Elastic Load Balancing (ELB), and Amazon CloudWatch. The solution also combined multiple pieces of software.

The following diagrams illustrate their topology:


ratb arch diagram Well Engineered use of AWS by Recovery and Transparency Board (RATB)

Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board

Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing
The website uses Microsoft’s SharePoint as it content management system and all data is aggregated into a global dimensional data warehouse to facilitate time-based analysis and reporting. The solution leverages SAP BusinessObjects and Microsoft SQL Server for reporting services that show how and where the money is being spent. The BI tools enable ad hoc reporting and are instrumental in Data Quality and Data Integrity score-carding.

Advanced Geospatial Analysis and Mapping
The Geospatial tools, based on ESRI software, allow up to 5,000 concurrent users and enables them to go directly to go to their communities of interest at the state, zip, congressional district, or county level. Hundreds of thousands of addresses are geo-coded and aggregated to display total value for each area of interest. Thematic maps and multiple view selections were incorporated to help the user better visualize the data. These thematics include funding heat maps, unemployment heat maps, and diversity maps.

Mr. Warren notes that testing and development enclaves were procured and ready on Amazon EC2 within two days of the contract award. He says, “Our migration to the cloud took only 22 days from feasibility study to production.” The RATB has also enjoyed improved computer security, including greater protection against network attacks and real-time detection of system tampering. Mr. Warren says, “In essence, the security system of AWS’s platform has been added to our existing security systems. We now have a security posture consistent with that of a multi-billion dollar company.” Additional benefits include lower costs and ability to add capacity on demand. The RATB expects to save around $750K during their current budget cycle.

The success of is being noticed outside of the RATB as well: Andre Romano of Newsweek wrote, “The current incarnation of…is perhaps the clearest, richest interactive database ever produced by the American bureaucracy.” The site has been given the 2009 Merit award, the 2010 Gold Addy award for Website design, InformationWeek Government IT Innovator 2010 Award, an Award of Distinction during the 16th Annual Communicator Awards, and a second place Gold Screen Award from the National Association of Government Communicators. is also an official Honoree for the Financial Services category in the 14th Annual Webby Awards.

To learn more see

 Well Engineered use of AWS by Recovery and Transparency Board (RATB)

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley, former CTO of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), is Founder and CTO of Crucial Point LLC, a technology research and advisory firm providing fact based technology reviews in support of venture capital, private equity and emerging technology firms. He has extensive industry experience in intelligence and security and was awarded an intelligence community meritorious achievement award by AFCEA in 2008, and has also been recognized as an Infoworld Top 25 CTO and as one of the most fascinating communicators in Government IT by GovFresh.

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