Sources: Amazon and CIA ink cloud deal

Clandestine contract marks a radical shift in the CIA's cloud strategy.

concept art for cloud services

Amazon will help the CIA build a private cloud, sources reveal. (Stock image)

In a move sure to send ripples through the federal IT community, FCW has learned that the CIA has agreed to a cloud computing contract with electronic commerce giant Amazon, worth up to $600 million over 10 years.

Amazon Web Services will help the intelligence agency build a private cloud infrastructure that helps the agency keep up with emerging technologies like big data in a cost-effective manner not possible under the CIA's previous cloud efforts, sources told FCW.

Amazon officials would not confirm the existence of the contract, and a CIA spokesperson likewise declined to comment on the matter.

"As a general rule, the CIA does not publicly disclose details of our contracts, the identities of our contractors, the contract values, or the scope of work," a CIA spokesperson told FCW.

In recent speaking engagements, however, CIA officials have hinted at significant upcoming changes to the way the agency procures software, how it uses big-data analytics and the ways in which it incorporates commercial-sector innovation.

Speaking to the Northern Virginia Technology Council Board of Directors on March 12, Central Intelligence Agency Chief Information Officer Jeanne Tisinger told an audience of several dozen people how the CIA is leveraging the commercial sector's innovation cycle, looking for cost efficiencies in commodity IT, and using software-as-a-service for common solutions.

Two audience members who asked not to be named told FCW that Tisinger said the CIA was working "with companies like Amazon."

CIA Chief Technology Officer Gus Hunt would not respond to FCW's questions about the Amazon deal, but did drop the firm's name in relation to software procurement during a conference organized by the Armed Forces Communications & Electronics Association's Washington, D.C. chapter in February. Hunt was quoted by Reuters as saying, "Think Amazon – that model really works," regarding the purchasing of software services on a "metered" basis for which Amazon is well-known for. Hunt has also spoken publicly in the past about the potential for leveraging public cloud infrastructure for non-classified information.

Historically, the CIA's cloud computing strategy centered on a number of smaller, highly specific private clouds. While the full scope of its current contract with Amazon is not yet clear, it is likely this contract essentially brings a public cloud computing environment inside the secure firewalls of the intelligence community, thereby negating concerns of classified data being hosted in any public environment.

A senior U.S. intelligence official told FCW that IT enterprise decisions within intelligence agencies are framed around the Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise (IC ITE) strategy.

That strategy outlines five goals and "promotes greater integration, information sharing, and information safeguarding through a common (intelligence community) IT approach that substantially reduces costs."

The strategy's language suggests other intelligence agencies may benefit through shared information from the private cloud created through the CIA-Amazon deal.

Industry experts, while stressing that they were not privy to the deal's details, told FCW that such a move would be a "game-changer" in federal IT, and that it would show the CIA is acting intelligently with regards to emerging technologies and tightening budgets.

And Dave Powner, director of IT management issues at the Government Accountability Office, told FCW he was unfamiliar with the CIA-Amazon deal, but stated it would make sense – especially given spending cuts across the board at most agencies.

"I'm not aware of that contract but I think in times of reducing budget situations you would expect to see agencies that haven't considered cloud solutions extensively in the past would be looking more and more of doing something along those lines," Powner said.

NEXT STORY: Got opinions on cloud?

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