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What the CIA private cloud really says about Amazon Web Services

Bernard Golden | Aug. 7, 2013
When the CIA opted to have Amazon build its private cloud, even though IBM could do it for less money, a tech soap opera ensued. Lost amid the drama, though, is a perfectly reasonable explanation why Amazon Web Services makes sense for the CIA--and why a disruptive AWS represents the future of the cloud.

The power of Amazon's ecosystem is, surprisingly, not widely discussed as one of the enormous advantages it has in the CSP battle. Just as Microsoft leveraged its developer network to dominance in the 1990s, so, too, does AWS leverage its ecosystem as a weapon against its competitors.

From the perspective of a user, the richer the ecosystem, the better. A rich ecosystem provides time-to-market advantages, greater flexibility in terms of suppliers and application architecture choices, and lower costs through supplier competition. One suspects that, even if additional services were not called out in the RFP, the CIA recognizes that a richer environment provides additional benefits-and this may have factored that into its decision-making process.

CIA-AWS partnership: Cloud's 'judgment of Paris' moment
The RFP outcome reminds me of the so-called Judgment of Paris in 1976, when American and French wines were compared. To the surprise and horror of the French wine industry, which took it as given that its wines were far superior to those of the U.S., American wines came out on top. Despite repeated protests and retests (truly reminiscent, eh?), the results confirmed the initial judgment. The perception of the quality of U.S. wines forever changed.

There were knock-on effects as well. Fine European restaurants began to carry American wines, while U.S. wine connoisseurs added California wines to their cellars. One could argue that the Judgment of Paris played a role in the evolution of fine dining and food quality that one can see expressed today in "artisanal" foodstuffs, pop-up restaurants, food trucks, and on and on.

The Judgment of Paris represented a watershed event that forced an entire industry to re-evaluate its assumptions and behaviors. It had long-lasting, far-reaching effects. It's likely that the CIA private cloud RFP will come to be seen in that same ligh.


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