The contract is the same one that Amazon won back in March, but IBM asked the Government Accountability Office to reopen the contract-approval process. Whichever company triumphs will need to provide the CIA with private-cloud infrastructure capable of handling data analytics and other needs; in exchange, the Agency will reportedly pay approximately $600 million over the next decade.
IBM already supplies IT infrastructure to the U.S. intelligence community, and IT giants fighting over government contracts is nothing new: Google and Microsoft, for example, have elevated such competition to an art form. But as the Journal points out, Amazon is a relative newcomer to the federal-contracting space despite its extensive cloud and data offerings (and sizable presence as a provider of cloud-based infrastructure to private corporations). If Amazon decides to make its Amazon Web Services more of a government player, it could complicate life for other tech companies that depend on taxpayer-funded contracts to fatten their respective bottom lines.
The news over the Amazon-IBM battle also comes at a delicate time for the federal government, which is facing widespread protest and criticism over the NSA’s surveillance of digital communications. Last week, The Guardian and The Washington Post posted top-secret documents (provided by a former CIA employee named Edward Snowden) describing an NSA project codenamed PRISM, which allegedly siphons information from the databases of nine major technology companies. (In emails to Slashdot and other media outlets, as well as postings on their respective corporate blogs, many of these companies have denied involvement with PRISM.)
It’s no secret that the NSA, CIA, and other agencies rely heavily on analytics to process the massive amounts of data they receive every day. In 2008, for example, the NSA began working on database technology it eventually contributed to the Apache Software Foundation in 2011. That technology, dubbed “Accumulo,” is described by the Foundation as a “robust, scalable, high performance data storage and retrieval system” based on Google’s BigTable and built atop open-source frameworks and services such as Hadoop, Zookeeper and Thrift. It’s a near certainty that other agencies have similar systems in place. And private companies are scrambling over each other to provide the underlying infrastructure.
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