NSA Awards Secret Up-to-$10B Contract to Amazon

A Microsoft protest of the decision has revealed some details about the U.S. intelligence community's second multi-billion dollar cloud award of the year.

The National Security Agency has awarded a secret cloud computing contract worth up to $10 billion to Amazon Web Services, Nextgov has learned.

The contract is already being challenged. Tech giant Microsoft filed a bid protest on July 21 with the Government Accountability Office two weeks after being notified by the NSA that it had selected AWS for the contract.

The contract’s code name is “WildandStormy,” according to protest filings, and it represents the second multibillion-dollar cloud contract the U.S. intelligence community—made up of 17 agencies, including the NSA—has awarded in the past year.

In November, the CIA awarded its C2E contract, potentially worth tens of billions of dollars, to five companies—AWS, Microsoft, Google, Oracle and IBM—that will compete for specific task orders for certain intelligence needs.

Details on the NSA’s newly awarded cloud contract are sparse, but the acquisition appears to be part of the NSA’s attempt to modernize its primary classified data repository, the Intelligence Community GovCloud.

For the better part of a decade, the NSA has moved its data, including signals intelligence and other foreign surveillance and intelligence information it ingests from multiple repositories around the globe, into this internally operated data lake analysts from the NSA and other IC agencies can run queries and perform analytics against.

In 2020, intelligence officials signaled an intent to bring in a commercial cloud provider to meet demands caused by exponential data growth and massive processing and analytics requirements that are challenging the NSA’s ability to scale. The effort, called the Hybrid Compute Initiative, would effectively move the NSA’s crown jewel intelligence data from its own servers to servers operated by a commercial cloud provider.  

Another win for Amazon

Amazon Web Services is parent company Amazon’s most profitable business unit, and while industry analysts consider it the market leader in cloud computing, it is also the dominant cloud provider among federal agencies, the Defense Department, and the intelligence community. AWS first inked a $600 million cloud contract with the CIA called C2S in 2013, through which it provided cloud services to the CIA and sister intelligence agencies, including the NSA. Last year, AWS secured at least a portion of the CIA’s multibillion-follow-on C2E contract. Microsoft twice won the Pentagon’s multibillion-dollar Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure contract over AWS, but Defense officials cancelled that contract in July after years of litigation.

“[The NSA’s award] just reiterates that Amazon is still the cloud provider to beat across the federal government,” said Chris Cornillie, an analyst at Bloomberg Government. “Microsoft has come a long way and made it a two way horse race in government, but Amazon was forming relationships and gathering security certifications a decade ago and Microsoft is still playing catch-up.”

AWS referred questions to the NSA. 

"NSA recently awarded a contract for cloud computing services to support the Agency. The unsuccessful offeror has filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office. The Agency will respond to the protest in accordance with appropriate federal regulations," an NSA spokesperson told Nextgov

 In a statement to Nextgov, Microsoft confirmed its protest. 

"Based on the decision we are filing an administrative protest via the Government Accountability Office. We are exercising our legal rights and will do so carefully and responsibly," a Microsoft spokesperson told Nextgov.

The Government Accountability Office is expected to issue a decision on Microsoft’s protest by Oct. 29.