Cloud Intelligence: Why Amazon’s CIA Contract Is Worth Watching

Amazon's big contract with the Central Intelligence Agency could help tamp down one of the key arguments against cloud computing—that it's insecure—once and for all.

If it’s good enough for the CIA, is it good enough for your association?

Last week, FCW reported that the Central Intelligence Agency signed a massive deal to work with Amazon Web Services (AWS), the granddaddy of, and the 800-pound gorilla in, the buy-a-piece-of-the-cloud space.

It’s a big contract—estimated at around $600 million, which is worth more than a few books to the e-retailer—and it may also be something of a harbinger, validating cloud computing to the skeptical folks both inside and out of the IT department.

Why’s that? For many organizations, a major concern with cloud computing is security. And the CIA has, well, pretty big security issues.

So what led the agency to go cloud? A quick roundup:

Why this makes sense: The biggest reason for the move appears to be the CIA’s desire to make its data more collectable and trackable over a longer period of time. “The value of any piece of information is only known when you can connect it with something else that arrives at a future point in time,” explained the agency’s CTO, Gus Hunt, at a recent conference. “Since you can’t connect dots you don’t have, it drives us into a mode of, we fundamentally try to collect everything and hang on to it forever.” So in other words, the CIA is buying into big data.

Ultimately, an organization like the CIA using this service may be just the validation you need to make the pitch that your association should jump in with both feet.

Why it raised eyebrows: The issues come from two fronts: privacy and security. During his speech (at GigaOm’s Structure:Data conference), Hunt spoke at great length about the kind of info people carry about themselves, even on their cellphones. “You’re already a walking sensor platform,” he said, according to The Huffington Post. He only briefly touched on privacy in his speech. There’s also the technical issue of how to keep all this data secure on the cloud. FCW notes that one way the agency would do this is by mixing the cloud with a tough firewall designed for the intelligence community. And although a company that’s best known as an online retailer might seem a strange choice for the CIA’s venture into the cloud, many other federal and state agencies have already teamed up with AWS for cloud computing services.

Why you should pay attention: Let’s face it. Your data probably doesn’t need to go through the levels of security the CIA requires for it to be useful, and if you can spend $600 million on anything, you’re running a really big organization. But ultimately, an organization like the CIA using this service may be just the validation you need to  make the pitch that your association should jump in with both feet.

On the other hand, you’ve already been secretly using AWS for a lot of your stuff for years. Don’t believe me? Here are just a few big companies that host their content via AWS: Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, Netflix, and Pinterest.

Oh … and Dropbox, which (on a very basic level) is essentially a user-friendly layer on top of Amazon’s S3 service.

In fact, the cloud wouldn’t be a mainstream product without Amazon’s AWS. Really, the shock here is that what’s good enough for everyone else in the tech world is good enough for the CIA, given its strong security standards.

If the CIA can be sold on the value of the cloud, perhaps now’s the time to make the pitch to your organization. (You’ll find more on that in this earlier blog post.)

Just be sure, when you’re trying to sell it for your member data and organizational approach, that security is a solvable problem.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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