The entrance to the CIA New Headquarters Building of the George Bush Center for Intelligence in Langley, Va. 

Aug 17 2021

Intelligence Community Looks Forward to Making Multicloud Model Work

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is going to have to instill a spirit of collaboration among traditional cloud competitors.

In the fall of 2020, as had long been expected, the U.S. intelligence community awarded a new, multibillion-dollar cloud contract not to one cloud service provider, but many. In November, the CIA, on behalf of itself and the IC’s 16 other agencies, awarded the cloud services portion of the Commercial Cloud Enterprise (C2E) contract to Amazon Web ServicesMicrosoftGoogleIBM and Oracle.

Now comes the hard part: getting traditional competitors to work together for the good of the country’s intelligence agencies. Michael Waschull, the acting CIO of the intelligence community, says that he is committed to getting them to do so but acknowledges it will be a heavy lift.

The CIA was one of the government’s early pioneers in large-scale cloud deployment and has been working since 2013 with Amazon Web Services on its Commercial Cloud Services (C2S) contract. C2E is the follow-up contract to C2S. The cloud companies will compete for task orders at various levels of classification, up to the top-secret level, for Software as a Service, Infrastructure as a Service and Platform as a Service offerings, as well as for other professional services.

Waschull tells FedScoop, “the idea of five different world-class cloud providers, bringing their capabilities, their knowledge, skills, and their capacity to bear on our problems and allowing the components within the IC to pick and choose so we can tailor and devise a best-fit molecule of capabilities, that shows great promise.”

However, he adds, that’s “if and only if I can overcome the one big obstacle that stands in our way: How do we incentivize collaboration, cooperation, communication, and mutual support between and among what are frankly these five competitors.”

The intelligence community is seeing tremendous volumes of data coming from satellites, being generated locally by artificial intelligence and machine learning applications, and being exchanged among intelligence agencies. “But these building blocks really lend themselves to be able to come up with those creative solutions that will enable us to manage the volume and velocity of the information that we’ve got to move around,” Waschull says.

Intelligence Community Sees Promise in Multicloud Approach

The intelligence community’s approach to the cloud stands in contrast to the Defense Department’s initial push to adopt and enterprise commercial cloud capability. The DOD in July decided to cancel its single-cloud Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure contract and indicated it will pursue a multicloud approach, most likely with AWS and Microsoft.

The multicloud approach seems to be the one that agencies are pursuing to deliver advanced cloud capabilities at a faster pace. That does not mean the model is without its challenges for the IC, however.

“By their very nature, they are private sector mission partners, they are motivated by profit, they are motivated by competition,” Waschull tells FedScoop. “We’ve got to instill a core value in that we appreciate collaboration and cooperation, more than we appreciate any single technical provision or any single lowest price.”

The IT chief adds: “We want best value. We want to promote integration of effort, promote each different competitor understanding not only their product lines but understanding the capabilities and limitations of their competitors’ product lines so that they can work together to come up with the best possible technical and business solution to the government’s needs.”

To help manage such a complex cloud environment, the intelligence community will work with a systems integrator through a second, separate contract under C2E to aid in “providing knowledge, skill and ability to help the government make the best possible choices to devise that best-fit formula for cloud capacity and capability,” Waschull says.

The integrator’s “award fees are predicated upon helping us make not only the best technical decisions for the implementation of cloud capacity across our enterprise but to understand the various pricing models from each particular vendor,” Waschull adds.

“Understanding volume discounts, understanding the way they compute pricing and knowing it so well that they can advise the government to say between two or three equally competitive technical approaches, from a business perspective, this is the way you want to go,” he tells FedScoop. “Having that kind of incentivized professional analysis to help guide the decisions we’re gonna make, I think is wicked powerful.”

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CIA/Wikimedia Commons