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Massive CIA cloud deal could be fulfilled by more than one company

The C2E contract is expected to become a source of intense competition between the two leading US commercial cloud providers, Amazon and Microsoft

Washington

THE Central Intelligence Agency is taking early steps towards procuring a massive cloud computing infrastructure to support its national security mission, according to documents reviewed by The Washington Post, with plans to award a contract worth "tens of billions" of dollars to more than one cloud provider by 2021.

The cloud effort, known as the C2E Commercial Cloud Enterprise, builds on an earlier US$600 million cloud computing contract that was awarded to Amazon's cloud computing division in 2013. And it runs parallel to a separate, US$10 billion cloud effort being pursued by the Defense Department. Both efforts are meant to outfit US national security agencies with next-generation cloud computing innovations from Silicon Valley.

The agency's decision to award the contract to more than one company could prove to be a major departure from its past cloud computing efforts, which have almost exclusively involved Amazon. The C2E contract is sure to become a source of intense competition between the two leading US commercial cloud providers, Amazon and Microsoft. And other competitors including IBM, Oracle and Google may see an opportunity to gain market share.

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An executive from IBM's federal business unit, which competes with Amazon Web Services, lauded the CIA's decision to turn to more than one cloud provider.

"The world's largest vendors are moving to multi-cloud environments because of their security, flexibility and resilience," IBM US federal general manager Sam Gordy said in an e-mail. "The CIA's approach to C2E clearly recognises the value of multi-cloud while encouraging competition, supporting legacy applications and ensuring the agency's access to future innovation."

An Amazon spokesman applauded the CIA for "extending its commitment" to commercial cloud computing.

"We are excited to see the intelligence community build on its transformational success and extend its commitment to the commercial cloud," an Amazon spokesman said in a statement. "As a customer-obsessed organisation, we're focused on driving innovation that supports the mission and spurs solutions that allow for missions to be performed better, faster, and in a more secure manner. We are honoured to support the intelligence and national security communities and are committed to supporting their critical missions."

An Oracle spokeswoman declined to comment, and a Microsoft spokesman did not return a request for comment. The CIA did not respond to a request for comment that was submitted through the agency's website.

The agency held an industry day for prospective bidders on March 22, according to documents reviewed by The Post and reported about earlier by Bloomberg News. Documents from the industry day note that the system should be able to handle classified and unclassified information, and incorporate data sources on the ground and in space. The agency intends to "acquire cloud computing services directly from commercial cloud service providers with established track records for innovation and operational excellence in cloud service delivery for a large customer base", suggesting that the agency wants to turn to a company that already has substantial experience in the commercial technology industry.

And the documents noted that whoever wins the contract should be able to support cloud connections at "tactical edge locations", suggesting that the system will be used for the agency's worldwide intelligence gathering operations and not just for its US-based business systems.

A preliminary timeline released at the industry day calls for "one or more contracts" to be awarded "no later than July 2021".

The CIA's new cloud computing effort comes as the Defense Department's parallel effort, known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure or "JEDI" for short, is stalled in a protracted legal battle. At the root of the conflict is a Defense Department decision to turn to just one provider for the JEDI contract, following a similar approach to the CIA's earlier efforts. The Defense Department has emphasised that, although it will work with multiple cloud providers for its overall mission, the JEDI effort would be bid to just one company in order to make for an easier transition.

That decision has been lauded by Amazon and criticised by its competitors. IBM and Oracle protested before the bid was awarded, but the complaints were dismissed and denied last year.

In a newer bid-protest case in the US Court of Federal Claims, Oracle is suing the Defense Department and Amazon for what it says are "conflicts of interest" in relation to Amazon. The Defense Department put a hold on the case while it investigates those conflicts.

In the meantime, the Pentagon's US$10 billion JEDI contract, though originally expected in April 2019, is on hold. Amazon, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle have submitted bids. WP