Interview: Vault Cloud illuminates secure govt cloud in the machine learning age
Cloud is the next big way that Australia can become a world leader in technology - that’s according to Vault Cloud founder and CEO Rupert Taylor-Price, who says Australia can definitely compete on a world scale.
When you think cloud, words such as private cloud, public cloud, and hybrid cloud will spring to mind. What you may not know is that there’s also a segment in between, called community cloud (also known as government cloud). It’s different to the way that public cloud providers such as AWS operate.
Taylor-Price says government cloud is designed to listen to and comply with the needs of a particular community to offer security, privacy, and control, but in a scalable way. It works in a similar way to private cloud.
Vault Cloud (formerly Vault Systems) is one of a handful of ASD-certified community cloud providers for the Australian Government and the government supply chain.
The certification process is not an easy feat as it is essentially the gold standard of community cloud and requires 938 security controls and checks, and the company made over 100,000 changes to its system to comply.
“This was about a four-and-a-half year process for us. The Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) looked at our source code, architecture, security posture, hiring, management, and onboarding processes, training; how you manage keys in data protection, cryptography, and more.”
For government cloud providers, security is paramount, right down to making sure walls are soundproof, and drones can’t get into air conditioning systems in order to access a building.
“It makes sense that a government needs to protect its citizens’ data to that degree,” Taylor-Price says.
Vault takes its security seriously; so how does that translate into its cloud technology?
Vault reengineered OpenStack, an open source technology, to comply with Australia’s security requirements. The company has worked with the Department of Defence and intelligence agencies on security controls for the government space.
“We see this as the winning strategy for government going forwards – being based on open standards technology so you have all that interoperability.”
Cloud technology is already becoming a critical part of government operations.
The Australian government earmarking significant funds into the application of artificial intelligence (AI) as the technology matures. It’s a clear sign that secure community cloud for government is a critical part of supporting these efforts that are ultimately about enhancing services for citizens.
“It’s a cognitive tool for the people providing those services. How do we get the right information to the right people, at the right time? Humans still make decisions, but they’re enhanced by automation, AI, and machine learning,” Taylor-Price says.
“The government also collects masses of unstructured data that’s hard to leverage and utilise. They are starting to see the value of that data not only for citizens but for workers.”
Governments that take big data and couple it with machine learning can apply findings to traffic patterns and traffic light optimisation, for example.
Looking back at congestion and design history could require petabytes of data – more than any human could consume, Taylor-Price says.
“It has to learn, just as humans learn from history. To work out what governments are doing in the present and the future, history is also critical to machine learning. This is because it creates learning, which then enables operational efficiencies going forward.”
That data also has to be protected from malicious and accidental misuse. As one of the fundamental enablers of machine learning, cloud needs to be reliable and secure.
While it would be tempting to suggest that public cloud providers like AWS could power the allure of machine learning, there are a few issues with this approach.
While many providers invest in AI on a global scale, they rarely invest in AI on a local, Australian level. That makes local projects difficult to run in a secure and sovereign way, particularly when dealing with sensitive citizen data.
There’s another problem with public cloud providers: security. It’s not that they’re insecure, it’s that public cloud is inherently not secure. Anyone can sign up and it’s designed with convenience in mind, Taylor-Price says – not the kind of thing you want when you’re talking about national security and social security.
Vault’s primary focus is primarily on security to ensure that data stays protected, even if it means jumping a few more hoops along the way.
“If you want security, sovereignty, and privacy aspects to be combined with the benefits of AI, it’s really about using a government community cloud such as Vault to access all of that information.”
Vault not only secures all data going in and out of the community cloud without impacting performance, but also brings data charges down to almost no cost.
Vault also has a dedicated security operations centre that monitors data and overall cyber attack trends in Australia.
“We see it as a shared security responsibility where we’re actively monitoring and protecting the information on behalf of the Commonwealth.”
So unlike public cloud providers that provide hosting for convenience and some security, Vault takes security to the core of everything it does. And when working with sensitive citizen data, anything less than inherently secure would be an unacceptable risk.