A cloud for spooks makes sense, but from Amazon?

According to a report in Federal Computer Weekly, the CIA has asked Amazon to help it build a private cloud.

Just like any large business, it makes sense for the CIA to want to adopt a cloud architecture. The organization surely is a huge consumer and processor of data. Shifting to the cloud could increase the efficiency of its data centers and make it easier for developers to build and upgrade applications.

spy_2.jpgSource: scampion, via Flickr
Amazon is reportedly building a private cloud for the CIA

Of all government agencies, it must have some of the most sensitive data so probably can’t even consider a public cloud. Looking for help converting a traditional data center to a cloud architecture makes sense.

It might be a surprise to imagine the CIA turning to Amazon for help, rather than a provider better known for working with government agencies. But Amazon has been signaling its interest in growing its customer base beyond startups, despite its reputation.

The company has been known for poor customer service, making it unappealing to businesses that are used to hand-holding from vendors. The result is that the bulk of its customers are small businesses. In a discussion about demand for hybrid clouds, Eucalyptus CEO Marten Mickos recently had this to say: “Amazon publicly states it has hundreds of thousands of customers. A big majority of them are so small they don’t need an on-premise environment.”

Still, I’ve been hearing that AWS is succeeding at efforts to become more attractive to enterprises. One executive recently told me, off the record, that Amazon is doing a good job of catching up to providers that have been catering to enterprises -- the source called Amazon a "quick study." If that’s true, maybe AWS was able to convince the CIA that it can serve such a big business and at a great price (Federal Computer Weekly is reporting that the deal is worth $600 million over 10 years).

Also, as the biggest and best-know infrastructure-as-a-service provider out there, Amazon would surely be attractive to the CIA. In addition, Amazon Web Services has been surprisingly steady at cutting prices for users. Perhaps it convinced the CIA that it has the know-how to help build one of the most efficient clouds out there.

Still, if you’d have asked me who would have been the most logical source to help the CIA build a private cloud, I would have said Terremark, the Verizon unit that offers an infrastructure-as-a-service platform. Like Amazon, Terremark isn’t known for supporting private clouds.

But when I recently spoke with Chris Drumgoole, senior vice president of global operations for Terremark, he said that his company has seen solid adoption from the U.S. federal government and also serves a couple of large foreign governments. The company has an office in Virginia that caters to government users.

Nobody is confirming the deal between Amazon and the CIA, which isn’t much of a surprise. So we may never know why – or even if – the CIA chose Amazon for this job. But if true, it’s a major win for Amazon. If Amazon could brag about this one, it would help it make inroads in the enterprise.

Read more of Nancy Gohring's "To the Cloud" blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @ngohring. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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