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Google’s satellite view of just one of the many data centers Amazon Web Services operates in Northern Virginia, this one in Ashburn. (GeekWire Screenshot)

Just a few miles away from Amazon’s proposed new headquarters in the soon-to-be created “National Landing” neighborhood split between Crystal City and Arlington, Va., sits what was already the most important Amazon location outside of Seattle.

Amazon Web Services was more or less born here in Northern Virginia, where the ground-breaking EC2 cloud computing service was first hosted. Much of the initial development work for the cloud services that changed the course of computing history was done in South Africa, but those services were put into production for the masses across several acres of data centers in the shadow of Dulles International Airport, about half an hour northwest from Crystal City.

As you might have noticed, Amazon is a rather secretive company, and does not disclose the exact location of its Northern Virginia data centers. But US East-1 is the largest and most important region in the company’s cloud operation.

Facebook’s Prineville, Ore. data center complex looms over Rt. 126. (GeekWire Photo / Tom Krazit)

Northern Virginia is home to some of the original cables installed by DARPA back in the 1960s and 70s to create the forerunner to the internet, and has long been a breeding ground for important government and commercial internet operations. Decades of investment in networks centered around the area make this location one of the most important crossroads of the physical internet.

AWS offers six availability zones in Northern Virginia, by far the most it offers in any one region. Availability zones help cloud customers spread their regional operating risk across separate buildings in case of a power outage at one, which means there are lots of massive data centers in and around the Northern Virginia suburbs of Herndon, Ashburn, and Manassas, Va.

US East-1 is also the creakiest region in the AWS arsenal; if something goes wrong with AWS, it’s a pretty safe bet that a problem in US East-1 is to blame. It’s likely in need of investment more than a decade after the first facilities were opened, and Amazon’s plans to invest in the region will probably involve some tuneups for the most important part of its cloud engine.

While it didn’t provide an exact location (surprising no one), AWS also announced Monday that the second GovCloud region it announced last year has come online. GovCloud regions are special collections of data centers that follow more stringent security rules and are accessible only by verified government employees or contractors, and the new facility was likely an important part of the AWS pitch to its new neighbors along the southern bank of the Potomac in Pentagon City and their $10 billion JEDI cloud contract.

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