CIA CIO: Private cloud 'the best decision we’ve ever made'

Four years into its embrace of an on-premises cloud, the intelligence community is seeing both cost and mission benefits.

Shutterstock image: cloud technology connections.

More than four years have passed since the CIA announced its watershed deal with Amazon Web Services to build out a private cloud for the intelligence community. According to CIA CIO John Edwards, "it's the best decision we've ever made."

"It's the most innovative thing we've ever done," Edwards said in a June 14 speech at AWS' Public Sector Summit. "It is having a material impact on both the CIA and the IC."

Dubbed Commercial Cloud Services (C2S), the 10-year, $600 million contract essentially put an entire AWS cloud region on CIA premises. "Both sides took a chance ... this had never been done before," Edwards said, and he pointed to a range of metrics to support his praise for the partnership.

For example, it used to take the CIA 180 days to provision a single server, he noted. Through virtualization, "we got that down to 60 days, and thought, 'we're doing pretty good,'" said. "Now through AWS and C2S, we're down to minutes. That's amazing."

Similarly, Edwards said, traditional IT acquisition often meant waiting nine months to be able to even test an application against actual data -- and if it didn't work as hoped, "then I'd start over." With the marketplace that's part of C2S, a developer can download an app in minutes and try it against the data set. If it "solves the mission," then "I can lease it as long as I want," he said. "If it doesn't, I blow up that instance, I download another application, and I try it again."

The agency is still working to build out that library of applications. There are roughly 100 applications in the marketplace, Edwards said, with "another 70 in the pipeline."

Thanks to such benefits, he said, "our adoption of cloud across the IC is growing 208 percent year over year. That's amazing." More than 4,000 developers across the community now work in the cloud environment, Edwards said, rather than at individually provisions workstations. And since C2S is not connected to the internet, he added, the scalability and nimbleness don't come with serious security tradeoffs.

"I'm never going to say that anything you do in the cyber world is totally invincible," he said, but "this is pretty close. ... this is probably the most secure thing out there."

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