How Amazon and AWS (Literally) Saved Ukraine

Marketed by AWS, Amazon’s huge cloud arm, the thing is called Snowball Edge. It looks more or less like a big plastic suitcase. She doesn’t look like much, but she helped literally save Ukraine.

Because a nation is a complex organization and Ukraine is no exception to the rule. At the last count, it had 43 million inhabitants, and these, as everywhere else, were linked by numerous documents and data to State services.

Financial and tax administration, health administration, justice, social organizations, national education, marital status, property titles, we leave you to continue this list: all this represents astronomical amounts of data concerning individuals, about which the State and its government must keep control, otherwise the whole building will collapse.

However, as we can see with the campaign of destruction of Ukrainian civil infrastructure carried out by Moscow with massive missile attacks, nothing within the country’s borders is completely safe from destruction and, in particular, “the data centers in which this data can be have been stored.

That they could be destroyed was a risk quickly understood by Amazon and AWS executives, as well as by the Ukrainian government, in particular by the astute “Minister of Technology” Mykhailo Fedorov. As the Los Angeles Times explains, the latter has decided to put in place a plan to put this form of digital double of the Kyiv government in the shelter, in the clouds.

And if Amazon also helps the country in a purely material way, sending it various basic needs, this is undoubtedly the most important aspect for Ukraine, as was the rapid deployment of Starlink, SpaceX’s satellite internet connection, decided by Elon Musk.

“This is the most technologically advanced war in human history”abounds Fedorov, who adds that the “The leadership of Amazon Web Services made a decision that saved the Ukrainian government and economy”🇧🇷

For data in my cloud

Prior to February, local law required that country-related data be stored on national territory. As the Russian threat became more and more accurate, it was modified a few weeks before the invasion. On February 24, 2022, the same day that Moscow carried out its first attacks, AWS “government transformation” head Liam Maxwell was meeting with Ukrainian Ambassador Vadym Prystaiko in London.

Both sketched out a plan to, as quickly as possible, put Ukrainian data out of Moscow’s hands, a priori definitely protected by its placement in the cloud. These, explains Fedorov, are “critical information for infrastructure” of the country, the “heart of the functioning of the economy, the tax system, the banks and the government as a whole”🇧🇷

Or many, many documents and data: there are around 10 million gigabits transferred so far, and the process is not a priori finalized. The process of collecting this data involved a total of twenty-seven ministries and eighteen universities, as well as dozens of private structures, including the largest bank in the country, PrivatBank.

Shock-protected Snowball Edges, each capable of storing 80 terabits of data, were shipped from Dublin to Ukraine. Once full, these massive hard drives had to cross the border, usually via Poland.

Often the material was transported in simple vans, a little later by plane when the noose was loosened in the west of the country and its airports. “It’s always a little tense at baggage claim”jokes (or doesn’t joke) Liam Maxwell. “Here is government in a box, literally.”

In Poland, Ukrainian refugees were being trained to use AWS services, to ensure that data continued to be used by government agencies at all times. The Los Angeles Times notes that Amazon didn’t have to think about the possible impact of such a deal on Russia: It has absolutely no commercial or economic interest in it and has never tried to get involved.

But if it saved Ukraine, or at least its administration, the operation is also positive for AWS: other countries watched this backup with interest and could quickly become new customers of its services.

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