Amazon legal filing flames IBM's 'materially deficient' CIA cloud

Redacted document reveals seething hatred in spook cloud battle


There's a war going on for the future CPU cycles of the US Central Intelligence Agency, and behind closed doors and under fluorescent lights, representatives of IBM and Amazon are spitting blood at each other as they vie for the contract.

In a heavily redacted report made public on Tuesday, new details came to light as to why Amazon is making a complaint against the federal government. Bezos & Co. filed a legal complaint after the CIA announced a rebid for a $600m CIA cloud contract which AWS had been awarded. The rebid was triggered by procurement agency the Government Accountability Office upholding two complaints made by IBM against the CIA for what Big Blue felt was an unfair bidding process.

The 61-page complaint sees Amazon's lawyers trying to disassemble the basis for the CIA's request for vendors to rebid for the lucrative, strategically important cloud contract. It also contains some choice words by Amazon's lawyers for what they call IBM's "uncompetitive, materially deficient proposal".

The complaint hinges on the fact that Amazon feels it won the procurement round fairly, and that IBM's protests are both invalid and unprecedented.

Amazon had been awarded the contract by the CIA in February, but IBM protested within two weeks and argued to the GAO that the CIA had failed to fairly evaluate a couple of IBM's bid points, and had been loose with Amazon in post-selection negotiations, and that this meant there should be another bid. The GAO upheld two rather narrow points: that the CIA had failed to evaluate prices fairly between AWS and IBM in one scenario, and that the CIA had waived one component of the Software Security Commercial Clause for AWS in its post-bid meeting.

The GAO "denied all other IBM protest challenges, including the Agency's assignment of a deficiency to IBM's proposal for IBM's inability to auto-scale and the assignment of its overall proposal as High Risk," the filing states.

Once the GAO upheld the two points, the CIA was compelled to consider a re-bid and reopened competition for the contract on July 9th 2013, causing Amazon to lodge its complaint in an attempt to stop IBM's protest in its tracks and get the Amazon-CIA cloud humming.

Bezos & Co. argue in the complaint that IBM's complaints were "meritless," and that the Government Accountability Office's decision to uphold them was "arbitrary and capricious."

And in a statement so heavy with irony that we had to spend some of this afternoon quietly digesting it, Amazon states, "Even if the Court should find some corrective action warranted, it should not permit IBM the undeserved windfall opportunity to make its otherwise uncompetitive, materially deficient proposal competitive now that it has AWS's price and ratings in hand."

For a company that has redefined the cloud industry through the public pricing of storage and compute, paired with voluminous public FAQ documents, to complain about this transparency advantaging competitors is a bit wrong-headed, we suggest.

If the rebid goes through, both Amazon and IBM will perform the "demonstration/oral presentations" component of their bid in September, at which point there's a chance IBM might resubmit with different technology, given its recent acquisition of cloud-computing assets from SoftLayer.

"I'm super-curious if IBM will rebid using SoftLayer assets instead," Gartner analyst Lydia Leong told The Register. "We're seeing IBM change deals midflight into SoftLayer ones."

At the time of writing, IBM had not responded to requests by The Register for further information.

In a statement sent to El Reg on Tuesday afternoon, IBM threw barbs at AWS, and echoed VMware's characterisation of the company as an inexperienced IT provider.

"Amazon had a chance to air its point of view fully and fairly at the GAO," IBM wrote. "We are confident the court in this case will uphold the GAO's ruling and the agency's follow-on actions implementing it. Unlike Amazon, IBM has a long history of delivering successful transformational projects like this for the U.S. government. IBM has been delivering trusted and secure cloud services to business and government clients for many years and developed virtualization technologies, which have led to cloud computing." ®

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