CIA Information Chief Talks Cloud Computing, Culture Clash at Amazon Event
Amazon Web Services
Doug Wolfe doesn’t stand out in a crowd, which isn’t surprising considering he’s been with the Central Intelligence Agency for the past 30 years or so, most recently as the agency’s chief information officer.
But he was center stage Tuesday morning at an Amazon Web Services sales event in Washington, D.C., as he gave a 15-minute speech for other government-IT-procurement types about why the intelligence agency picked Amazon for a recent $600 million cloud-computing contract.
“This is not something in my 30 years that we have traditionally done,” Wolfe said, joking that when he agreed to speak, no one told him he’d be addressing upwards of 3,000 government and IT professionals in a cavernous hall at the Washington Convention Center.
“It’s been a pretty interesting clash of cultures here,” Wolfe said, describing discussions the agency has had with Amazon over the past few months as they’ve worked on the CIA’s new cloud-based system. “We’ve had some interesting conversations and debates on security. We’re working through that, and I think we’re going to end up with a good product, a secure product.”
Amazon Web Services executives could barely contain their glee at convincing Wolfe to speak at the three-day “educational” event, where they hope to convince other government agencies to move their services onto Amazon’s cloud-based service.
Government agencies have been trying, slowly, to move away from operating their own data centers in favor of cloud-based services, under the Obama administration’s “Cloud First” policy. But those efforts have been hampered by agency concerns about the security of using remote cloud-based services to house sensitive data.
The CIA deal was a significant victory last year for Amazon, which beat out IBM for the four-year contract, because it could help convince other federal agencies — particularly intelligence agencies — to use more cloud-based systems. IBM challenged the decision, since its bid was lower than Amazon’s, but the computer giant ultimately gave up after a loss in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
An embarrassing report from the Government Accountability Office found that the CIA picked Amazon’s service because it had a “superior technical solution” and would be more scalable than IBM’s service.
Not surprisingly, Wolfe was light on details about the CIA’s new cloud-based technology. The intelligence agency has been working with Amazon since October to build a fenced-in cloud system, Wolfe said, adding that it hopes to have it running by this summer.