Amazon-CIA deal triggers plenty of questions

Amazon won a $600 million contract to build a private cloud for the CIA, and with it has come many questions that may go unanswered, starting with how much of a game-changer it is.

When it comes to traffic on our website, few stories are as hot as the CIA-Amazon $600 million cloud deal.

For our sister publication, FCW, who broke the story, the traffic probably ranks the story as one of their biggest ever.

Large, mainstream business news outlets, such as Forbes.com and Marketwatch.com, have picked up the story, which drove a tremendous number of readers to FCW’s site. A Google News search on Amazon and CIA reveals a broad range of blogs and news sites reporting on FCW’s reporting.

Unfortunately, no one is really breaking anything that FCW’s Frank Konkel hasn’t already had in his story.

At the FCW Fed100 gala earlier this week, I asked several people about the deal, and what they had heard. Lots of people had heard that it happened, though few knew many details.

The idea of Amazon building a private cloud for the CIA has captured people’s imaginations, but shouldn’t be that surprising. The CIA has always been cutting edge when it comes to technology and innovation.

In 1999, it created its own venture capital group, In-Q-Tel, to invest in emerging technologies that can support intelligence operations.

Look at some recent investments, and a move to the cloud shouldn’t be too surprising:

  • Delphix, data management and virtualization solutions
  • Tyfone, mobile security in the cloud
  • Cloudant, big data analytics in the cloud.
  • Huddle, secure cloud-based collaboration
  • Adaptive Computing, developer of a cloud computing operating system

And that goes back just to August. Obviously, the CIA sees great value in cloud computing for the entire intelligence community in areas such as collaboration, analytics and mobile.

If you think about the vast amounts of data the CIA and the rest of the intell community has, a cloud approach is probably the only solution that brings any hope of discovering and using the intelligence and knowledge locked away in that data.

For Amazon, this is simply a great deal to make because it is high dollar and long term.

But people have plenty of questions, one of which is, what exactly does it mean that they are going to “build” a private cloud?

Are they going to literally and figuratively wall off part of GovCloud? Or, are they going to break ground some other place?

Is this government-owned/government-operated cloud or contractor-owned/contractor operated? Or some kind of hybrid?

Who are Amazon’s partners? The long list of partners on the government section of the AWS site doesn’t reveal a lot of household names.

One person speculated to me that this might be the start of Amazon’s play to become more like IBM by providing upfront consulting through build out, and then maintenance and operations. It’s a 10-year deal, though I’m sure at least half is in options, but obviously the CIA and Amazon see this as a relationship.

The tough part for Amazon is that this contract will never be a referenceable account in the traditional sense. We’ll likely never see a case study about how the CIA is using the cloud on the Amazon Web Service site.

I’m sure Teresa Carlson, who leads the global public sector business for AWS, is just bursting to talk about it, but she’ll likely never get the chance.

On the other hand, the win adds a little bad-ass swagger to Amazon. It’s easy to imagine the clichéd dialogue:

Carlson: We won a contract, but if I tell you, I’d have to kill you.

I’m sure she’d say it with that great Kentucky accent as well.

So other than stating the obvious that this is a big deal, figuring out what it means and how much of a shift this is in the market will take more time. But we’ll keep asking those questions.

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