The world’s largest cloud-services company is offering $250,000 in prizes to local governments that enter and win its cloud-computing competition. The competition is open to entries until August 21 from any municipality in the world. 

In its "City on a Cloud" competition last year, Seattle-based Amazon Web Services Inc. gave away Amazon cloud credits to eight winners that harnessed cloud computing in a new or innovative way. This year it will do the same. The eight winners are grouped in three categories: Best Practices, Partners in Innovation and Dream Big.

“The awards are third-party validation that you’re succeeding,” says Jonathan Feldman, chief information officer, Asheville, N.C., whose department won one of last year’s categories for relocating its disaster recovery to the cloud. Feldman says that when his team does something scary and innovative, it’s nice to be able to recognize their aspirational work. Keeping the team reaching for difficult goals is the only way to keep any of the best and brightest talent working in the government sector, which he says needs all the talent it can get.

“If you’re a small municipality, odds are that your disaster-recovery center is 500 feet to one mile away from your primary recovery center,” says Feldman. 

He calls Asheville’s disaster-recovery center was less than two city blocks from the primary data center. “This is a problem,” says Feldman. During natural disasters like hurricane Sandy, this kind of hyper-localized disaster-system recovery proved to be wanting for many companies. To solve the problem, Feldman tested a data-security service that synced Feldman’s servers with Amazon’s cloud. He then hired a third-party security auditor to test the service at random, and it passed with ease. After that, Feldman and the city of Asheville adopted the service, entered Amazon’s competition and was one of the winners.

“When I get eye surgery, I don’t want someone who just started out,” says Feldman. “Someone who does something a lot is very good at it. When I look for a cloud provider, I look for scale.”

Others are learning from the program, too. “Our interest in the competition is best-practice sharing,” says Cordell Schachter, CTO, New York City Dept. of Transportation. “It’s great to know if someone else has invented a better mousetrap, and we enter these competitions to see how close our practices are to that benchmark.”

Schachter’s team won last year with an app called iRideNYC. It is a responsive web app that provides real-time public-transit information about New York City buses, subways and Citibikes.

“I have to admit that in the government we don’t have the same financial rewards as the private developers,” says Schachter. He adds that getting his staff a pat on the back and wider recognition than just from himself and his commissioner is important.

“A contest like this can do that,” Schachter adds.