The Central Intelligence Agency is taking early steps toward procuring a massive cloud computing infrastructure to support its national security mission, according to documents reviewed by The Washington Post, with plans to award a contract worth “tens of billions” of dollars to more than one cloud provider by 2021.

The cloud effort, known as the C2E Commercial Cloud Enterprise, builds on an earlier $600 million cloud computing contract that was awarded to Amazon’s cloud computing division in 2013. And it runs parallel to a separate, $10 billion cloud effort being pursued by the Defense Department. Both efforts are meant to outfit U.S. national security agencies with next-generation cloud computing innovations from Silicon Valley.

The agency’s decision to award the contract to more than one company could prove to be a major departure from its past cloud computing efforts, which have almost exclusively involved Amazon. The C2E contract is sure to become a source of intense competition between the two leading U.S. commercial cloud providers, Amazon and Microsoft. And other competitors including IBM, Oracle and Google may see an opportunity to gain market share.

An executive from IBM’s federal business unit, which competes with Amazon Web Services, lauded the CIA’s decision to turn to more than one cloud provider.

“The world’s largest enterprises are moving to multi-cloud environments because of their security, flexibility and resilience,” IBM Federal general manager Sam Gordy said in an email. “The CIA’s approach to C2E clearly recognizes the value of multi-cloud while encouraging competition, supporting legacy applications and ensuring the agency’s access to future innovation.”

An Amazon spokesman applauded the CIA for “extending its commitment” to commercial cloud computing.

“We are excited to see the intelligence community build on its transformational success and extend its commitment to the commercial cloud. As a customer obsessed organization, we’re focused on driving innovation that supports the mission and spurs solutions that allow for missions to be performed better, faster, and in a more secure manner,” an Amazon spokesman said in a statement. “We are honored to support the intelligence and national security communities and are committed to supporting their critical missions.”

(Amazon founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

An Oracle spokeswoman declined to comment and a Microsoft spokesman did not return a request for comment. The CIA did not respond to a request for comment that was submitted through the agency’s website.

The agency held an industry day for prospective bidders on March 22, according to documents reviewed by The Post and reported about earlier by Bloomberg News. Documents from the industry day note that the system should be able to handle both classified and unclassified information, and incorporate data sources both on the ground and in space. The agency intends to “acquire cloud computing services directly from commercial cloud service providers with established track records for innovation and operational excellence in cloud service delivery for a large customer base,” suggesting the agency wants to turn to a company that already has substantial experience in the commercial technology industry.

And the documents noted that who wins the contract should be able to support cloud connections at “tactical edge locations,” suggesting the system will be used for the agency’s worldwide intelligence-gathering operations and not just for its U.S.-based business systems. A preliminary timeline released at the industry day calls for “one or more contracts” to be awarded “no later than July 2021.”

The CIA’s new cloud computing effort comes as the Defense Department’s parallel effort, known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure or “JEDI” for short, is stalled in a protracted legal battle. At the root of the conflict is a Defense Department decision to turn to just one provider for the JEDI contract, following a similar approach to the CIA’s earlier efforts. The Defense Department has emphasized that, although it will work with multiple cloud providers for its overall mission, the JEDI effort would be bid to just one company in order to make for an easier transition. That decision has been lauded by Amazon and criticized by its competitors

Pre-award bid protests from IBM and Oracle were respectively dismissed and denied last year. In a newer bid protest case in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, Oracle is suing the Defense Department and Amazon for what it claims are “conflicts of interest” in relation to Amazon.

The Defense Department put a hold on the case while it investigates those conflicts. In the meantime, the Pentagon’s $10 billion JEDI contract, though originally, expected in April 2019, is on hold. Amazon, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle have submitted bids.

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