How the CIA's Cloud Puts Fresh Tech at Analysts' Fingertips

Gil C/Shutterstock.com

The intelligence community's marketplace gets new software into analysts' hands faster.

The classified cloud computing infrastructure delivered two and a half years ago by Amazon Web Services to the CIA continues to pay dividends for the intelligence community. AWS' newest service—a classified marketplace for applications—is exponentially reducing the time it takes to bring new software into the IC.

“This is a game-changer for us,” CIA Chief Information Officer John Edwards told Nextgov. “Things that used to take us months take us minutes.”

For the 17 agencies that comprise the IC, time is critical. Before AWS launched the IC Marketplace for the CIA in April, it could take “nine to 12 months to bring in a new application,” Edwards said.

» Get the best federal technology news and ideas delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.

The classified marketplace for applications is similar to AWS’ public marketplace. Applications required market surveys, a contract or purchasing vehicle, and testing time. The process left analysts and data scientists waiting—and generally using outdated technologies compared to leading industry counterparts.

“We’d spend tens of millions of dollars and still be six or seven years behind where everyone else is in the commercial world,” Edwards said. “These guys are driving us to operate at their speed. We need to not act like the government, but more like commercial [companies], and operate at the speed of mission and not the speed of government.”

A recent demonstration of the IC Marketplace to the CIA’s top three officials left them impressed, Edwards said. In less than 3 minutes, an analyst sat down, downloaded a DevOps workspace and application from the marketplace and populated the environment with data. That kind of speed matters in national security.

The marketplace allows analysts, data scientists and developers to quickly select tools for specific problems or use the try-before-you-buy feature from AWS’ public marketplace. Software licensing typically precludes this kind of agility—an issue the Government Accountability Office has repeatedly identified as costing the government billions—with acquisition officials handcuffed by costly upfront agreements. No agency wants to be left short on licenses, so acquisition officials sometimes overestimate how many to purchase, potentially resulting in overspending millions of dollars.

Users can spin up approved applications in the C2S cloud to deal with specific mission needs, and if they don’t work, “blow up that instance and download another application," Edwards said.

The intelligence agency is only billed for storage and compute used, which skirts the problematic nature of estimating how many licenses of a software product to purchase. That frees up analysts and others to “play” around in the C2S environment, testing applications and preparing for whatever mission needs might arise.

“Once you have that [application], it works with my mission data, and it solves a problem,” Edwards said. “I can lease that for as long as I want, and use for as little or long as I want to. I can buy exactly what I need, for exactly as long as I need it.”

Edwards echoed peers at the CIA in saying the cloud infrastructure opened the doors to software offerings from startups and other companies that previously felt the government too burdensome a customer to pursue. Companies are busting down the virtual door trying to get their offerings before the CIA now because there’s an easy way for them to do it.

That’s also one of the big challenges, Edwards said. While AWS’ public marketplace has 3,500 commercial applications, the IC Marketplace only has 72. Both AWS and the IC vet applications, looking for things like foreign ownership in companies. Edwards said while the CIA is “tweaking the process to make it faster,” resource hurdles exist.

“Some of that is resources, and we’ll apply more to processes, but you can only do so much,” Edwards said.

Nonetheless, 200 applications are in the IC Marketplace pipeline at some stage of vetting, prioritized “based on their bang for the buck” to the IC. The CIA is striving for commercial parity, but it’s only interested in applications “with relevance to the intelligence community,” Edwards said. That means big data, analytics and geospatial applications have the inside track.

Transactions are handled by the IC Marketplace, and the IC pays through the original 10-year C2S contract, initially valued at $600 million for a classified cloud computing infrastructure. Because that contract has options for additional services like the IC Marketplace, it’s likely the value will increase over time.

Edwards said the C2S contract is “not so much about savings of dollars, but more about the impact to mission.” He estimated there would indeed be dollar savings over time—by less use of costly internal data centers, for example—but said the CIA’s partnership with AWS better positions itself to deal with the fiscal realities of today.

At the same time, budgets have decreased, mission demand has increased, so innovation that improves agility and speed-to-market are very real ways the CIA is trying to balance between those stark realities.

“As demand goes up and budgets go down, we’re still meeting mission demand,” Edwards said. “It’s allowing us to absolutely operate within those two lines.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.