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IBM Corp is protesting a $600 million cloud computing contract between the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Amazon Web Services (AWS).

The GAO plans to rule on the CIA cloud procurement June 6

The GAO plans to rule on the CIA cloud procurement June 6

The Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of U.S. congress charged with examining matters related to the payment and receipt of public funds, will render a decision on the CIA cloud procurement June 6 – this week.

The government body can either deny, dismiss or sustain the protest, but if the GAO decides to sustain then the CIA will have to run the procurement again, opening the door for IBM and delaying the project further.

IBM was one of the initial bidders for the ten-year contract, and originally filed the bid protest over the project back in February, a month after the contract was awarded to AWS. But the protest has been supplemented three times since, with the last amend to the filing being made on April 11. While the exact terms of the contract are unknown, the protest actions by IBM are delaying AWS’ plans to build the intelligence agency’s private cloud infrastructure.

Neither the CIA nor AWS are confirming the contract, but it’s clear why IBM is trying to ensure the competition for the project is reopened. The $600 million contract is one of the largest single-supplier cloud procurements with the U.S. government to date.

The CIA’s shift towards cloud adoption has been driven in part by the agency’s embrace of big data. Discussing the new strategy in November last year, the agency’s CTO Ira Hunt explained: “It’s the CIA’s job to leverage the world of big data, find out what actually maters, connect the dots and figure out what our adversaries are intending to do.”

This is not the first time cloud computing deals have seen protest filings with the GAO, and these filings have been on the increase since 2008. Last year both Microsoft and AT&T filed protest claims with the GAO specifically criticising the specifications for the cloud services within a government tender.

The CIA has previously implemented smaller, private clouds for very specific internal use, but it’s possible that the value and nature of this protest filing hints at a much bigger, much more ambitious plan for the intelligence agency’s big data plans. To put this in perspective, the Defense Information Systems Agency announced last week that it plans to re-open competition on a cloud storage contract  for an “unnamed intelligence agency” after cancelling a $45 million singe-supplier contract it had with Alliance Technology Group, based in Maryland.The unnamed agency wants to develop a private cloud specifically for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, scalable to several exabytes (an exabyte is 1 million terabytes) and capable of ingesting a range of different data types from other agencies. The CIA cloud contract being protested is worth over ten times the value of this contract.

Nevertheless, the formative nature of cloud computing services and technologies makes it very difficult to specify exactly what is required of a solutions provider, which has to an extent driven the increase in protest filings over recent years.

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