The Central Intelligence Agency is now officially an Amazon Web Services cloud consumer.
Less than 10 months after a U.S. Court of Federal Claims judge ended a public battle between AWS and IBM for the CIA’s commercial cloud contract valued at up to $600 million, the AWS-built cloud for the intelligence community went online last week for the first time, according to a source familiar with the deal.
The cloud — best thought of as a public cloud computing environment built on private premises — is yet far from its peak operational capabilities when it will provide all 17 intelligence agencies unprecedented access to an untold number of computers for various on-demand computing, analytic, storage, collaboration and other services.
The timing aligns with public comments made by CIA Chief Information Officer Douglas Wolfe in June, though neither the CIA nor Amazon would confirm the cloud has come online.
“Our goal is to make the IC cloud’s commercial services available to customers beginning in summer 2014, and we are on target to meet it,” a CIA spokesperson told Nextgov. “The services will be available to all intelligence community agencies.”
Now available to intelligence agencies, the IC cloud is akin to a freight train beginning to accelerate down the tracks. The basic infrastructure is in place, but it will take time for intelligence agencies to identify applications, information and data to transition to the cloud platform.
In time, the cloud’s full capabilities are expected to usher in a new era of intelligence sharing and cooperation even as the IC collects ever-greater amounts of data from sensors, satellites, surveillance efforts and other sources.
Importantly, the CIA believes the IC cloud will be as safe as — or safer — than security on its current data centers, having met IC standards that govern the handling of classified information. Each intelligence agency has a say in the accreditation process, according to intelligence officials. The AWS-built cloud launch essentially means the entire IC has vouched for its security.
“The IC always applies a rigorous process to determine the operational readiness of its IT systems and all of the intelligence agencies have an opportunity to participate in these procedures,” a U.S. intelligence official told Nextgov.
The IC’s use of cloud services was first outlined three years ago in the Intelligence Community Information Technology Enterprise in an effort to reduce IT spending, harness innovation from the private sector and improve information sharing within the intelligence community.
The massive effort, led by the CIA and the National Security Agency, which built its own private cloud, culminated in a CIA contract awarded to AWS in February 2013 that was held up in court until October 2013 by competitor IBM.
The IC’s decision to tap a commercial cloud provider allows it to only pay for services it uses as opposed to costly internal data centers. The IC will also benefit through private sector innovation. Amazon, for example, made 200 incremental improvements last year to its platform; the IC will be able to implement those kinds of improvements as it sees fit.