Amazon hints at details on its  CIA Franken-cloud

AWS will build and manage the cloud that will sit in a CIA data center

Amazon Web Services recently won a reported $600 million contract to build the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) a cloud. But that cloud will not look like any other cloud on the planet.

Given the sensitive nature of building an IT operation for one of the United States’ most secretive organizations, details about how exactly the platform will be architected have been scant. But, at the company’s annual user conference this week, Amazon Web Services executives offered some hints about the project.

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Here’s what we learned: Amazon will build the cloud using AWS architectures and AWS will manage it, but executives hinted that it will not be accessed the way other customers use AWS services through the public Internet. “We’re managing the operations in the data center,” Andy Jassy, Amazon’s senior vice president and the head of the company’s cloud computing division AWS said about the CIA deal. “It’s our hardware, it’s our networking.”

AWS Chief Information Security Officer Stephen Schmidt put it another way: “We’re providing a service,” he said, explaining that Amazon will own and operate the hardware in the data center, but it will not be accessed through traditional network connections. It basically sounds like AWS is building the CIA a massive private cloud that will run AWS infrastructure, but it will sit in a CIA data center.

Amazon has not in the past offered customers private clouds that sit on their own premises, but Jassy said that if there is a large enough business opportunity to do so, the company will explore it. “Is the CIA news a departure for us? I would say no,” Jassy said during a first-ever press briefing question and answer session at the conference, named re:Invent. 

Amazon has consistently advocated that the most cost effective and scalable option for delivering infrastructure is through a public cloud. Some “small number” of organizations though may be unwilling to put workloads in the public cloud, Jassy acknowledged. The CIA seems to fit that bill.  

What other secret sauce will AWS give the CIA? That just may never be public information.

Senior Writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing for Network World and NetworkWorld.com. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW. Read his Cloud Chronicles here.  

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