UPDATED 18:30 EST / NOVEMBER 20 2020

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Now that’s multicloud: CIA awards multibillion-dollar contract to AWS, Microsoft, Google, Oracle and IBM

The Central Intelligence Agency has awarded a long-awaited multibillion-dollar contract, called Commercial Cloud Enterprise or C2E, to the five major U.S. public cloud providers: Amazon Web Services Inc., Microsoft Corp., Google LLC, Oracle Corp. and IBM Corp.

The CIA didn’t disclose the value of the contract, but Nextgov, which broke the news late today, said procurement documents issued by the intelligence agency last year suggested the contract could be worth tens of billions of dollars over the next 15 years.

The contract calls for the companies to compete for specific “task orders” issued by the CIA for itself and also 16 other agencies making up the intelligence community. Previously, in 2013, AWS was awarded a sole 10-year, $600 million contract to provide a range of cloud computing services, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency.

Under the new contract, details of which haven’t been released publicly yet, the CIA will enable the five cloud providers to compete for task orders at different security classification levels, up to top secret, Nextgov reported. AWS remains the only cloud provider to date to offer the ability to address workloads at all security classifications, including top-secret, though Microsoft is close behind.

In any case, the contract involves the full range of basic cloud services such as infrastructure-, platform-, and software-as-a-service, in addition to professional services. The agency also will award a “cloud integrator,” like traditional systems integrators, contracts to provide integration and management, though that hasn’t been completed yet.

The award is unusual in that it appears not to settle on a particular cloud provider. That’s unlike other big recent federal government deals, including the Department of Defense’s $10 billion, 10-year Joint Enterprise Defense Initiative, which was awarded in a surprise decision to Microsoft alone after AWS was favored for many months.

AWS has contested the contract award, which remains mired in litigation as the leading cloud provider continues to pursue legal avenues despite a confirmation of the award to Microsoft in September. AWS charges political interference by President Donald Trump, among other flaws it alleges in the award.

The CIA isn’t saying why it went the multicloud route, but former Intelligence Community Chief Information Officer John Sherman, now the principal deputy CIO in the Pentagon, earlier this year told FedScoop the thinking behind its desire to go multicloud. “We are ready to move to an environment where we can use best-athlete capabilities, having potentially more than one vendor that brings different strengths on things like [artificial intelligence] and [machine learning] and different workloads and database management, all these kinds of different pieces going together to where, as an officer at one of the agencies, you can say my workload may run best in this cloud,” he said.

“The CIA is doing cloud the right way, opting for multicloud and multiple bids for projects,” said Constellation Research Inc. principal analyst Holger Mueller. “That allows the CIA and its agencies to have the right cloud for the right use case, the option of higher resilience due to spread of load and, last but not least, the chance to extract better deal through negotiations, which is a win for the taxpayer. In short. the CIA did what every savvy chief information and chief technology officer already does.”

The winning cloud providers not surprisingly crowed about the award.

An AWS spokesperson said the company is “honored to continue to support the intelligence community as they expand their transformational use of cloud computing. Together, we’re building innovative solutions across all classification levels that deliver operational excellence and allow for missions to be performed faster and more securely.”

In a statement by a spokesperson, Google said it’s “proud to have been named a vendor for the Commercial Cloud Enterprise contract (C2E). C2E is multi-cloud, ensuring that agencies aren’t locked into any single vendor — and are able to ensure capacity, redundancy, and best-of-breed cloud solutions. We remain committed to serving public sector organizations of all sizes, and this award builds on recent federal momentum for Google Cloud with NOAA, the U.S. Department of Energy, Defense Innovation Unit, U.S. Navy, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, U.S. Small Business Administration, and more.”

A Microsoft spokesperson said the company is “eager to serve as an integral partner in supporting its overall mission. We applaud the intelligence community in advancing its cloud strategy to the next phase in order to take advantage of the latest commercially available cloud technologies.”

IBM highlighted its “hybrid cloud flexibility and sophisticated security features.” A spokesperson added, “Our position as a commercial enterprise open hybrid-cloud global leader has sharpened our expertise to help our clients seamlessly move to a multicloud ecosystem in compliance with cloud security standards.”

Photo: CIA/Wikimedia Commons

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