Say what you will about about the Central Intelligence Agency, but one thing is clear: these are people who do not like to mess around with their data. The CIA is in the business of secrets, so their potential $600 million contract with Amazon Web Services is perhaps the greatest validation of cloud computing —and AWS—to date.
AWS may appear to need such validation, if you listen to competitors like IBM and VMware. But while all the caterwauling is going on, Amazon is quietly making its presence known in the government cloud sector anyway.
While many eyes in the enterprise IT community were watching VMware squaring off against AWS with its own vCloud Hybrid Service, AWS was holding the grand opening of its new Herndon, VA offices Monday. It was a nice cap to a crappy weekend, when yet another outage in the cloud provider's northern Virginia facilities borked AirBNB, Instagram and Netflix—among others—for a few hours this weekend.
But it would be premature to hold a pity party for AWS just yet: the company is faring rather well as a cloud services vendor, easily fending off the likes of Rackspace, HP and now VMware. Its government progress is particularly telling: AWS' two-year-old GovCloud program just announced the addition of CloudFormation technology to the GovCloud service. CloudFormation enables developers and systems administrators (collectively referred to as DevOps) to automatically provision AWS cloud resources and run applications by either using sample templates or rolling their own configurations.
GovCloud, itself launched in the summer of 2011, is a hardened collection of AWS' enterprise-ready services, slowly adding features like CloudFormation to its portfolio even as GovCloud makes a splash among government IT shops.
The PR Battle For Government Cloud
The aforementioned CIA contract is definitely a diamond for AWS and GovCloud, should AWS actually get it. The CIA actually awarded AWS the job to run Hadoop jobs with the Amazon Elastic MapReduce service, as well as long-term data storage services, in an on-site cloud back in March, but IBM filed a formal protest against the contract award a couple of weeks later. Now the entire process is up for rebid, thanks to a lucky break IBM caught from the Government Accounting Office (GAO).
IBM can hardly be blamed for screaming bloody murder about the original contract award—$600 million is enough of a payday that even Big Blue would feel the loss. Not to mention the bigger payoff from such a gig: any cloud service provider that can say it provides secure cloud services to the CIA would obtain serious cachet not only with other government agencies but with enterprise companies that might be on fence about taking the plunge into cloud computing.
It would also lend an additional benefit to AWS: the whole "new kid on the block" reputation AWS gets thrown its way from competitors like IBM and VMware would be blown out of the water. IBM and VMware have been especially nasty about it, too.
During VMware's Partner Exchange conference in February, President and COO Carl Eschenbach told attendees, "I look at this audience, and I look at VMware and the brand reputation we have in the enterprise, and I find it really hard to believe that we cannot collectively beat a company that sells books."
Earlier this month, when AWS filed its own counter-complaint to the GAO's decision to let the CIA contract bid get a do-over, IBM made this statement:
We are confident the court in this case will uphold the GAO's ruling and the agency's follow-on actions implementing it. Unlike Amazon, IBM has a long history of delivering successful transformational projects like this for the U.S. government.
This "go away kid, you bother me" line of attack would seriously run out of ammunition should AWS ultimately walk away from this brouhaha with a shiny new contract from the CIA.
But it may have those chops already, despite what AWS' competitors would have you believe. In May, AWS received FedRAMP certification that approves cloud service providers for government work.
Even as AWS demonstrates it's good enough for government work, the company is also making inroads into government agencies as a service provider for vendors that use AWS in their workflow. This week Federal Computing Weekly reported on the Interior Department's awarding to 10 vendors of a 10-year $10 billion contract to handle its Foundation Cloud Hosting Services project. The FCW article also revealed that five of the vendors have relationships with AWS already.
FCW confirmed that AWS fits into the offerings of Aquilent, Autonomic Resources, Lockheed Martin, Smartronix and Unisys. Each partnership will be slightly different, but AWS clearly is positioned to get a piece of a potentially very large pie through the DOI deal.
There will be a lot of PR wrangling with the AWS-IBM battle over for the CIA contract, but the truth is that despite enterprise vendors' efforts to belittle the "bookseller" who wants to be a cloud service provider, AWS has already demonstrated it is ready to be a player in the government sector.
If IBM, VMware, Dell, HP and any other AWS competitor wants to take on the upstart, it will have to be with more than smack-talk.
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