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NSA to crunch big data in AWS C2S

The NSA is about to move some of its IT infrastructure to AWS as it seeks ways to increase efficiency and security and to analyze vast amounts of data.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The National Security Agency is moving some of its IT operations to Amazon's cloud.

*The National Security Agency (NSA) was represented by Alex Voultepsis, chief of the engineering and planning process for the NSA's Intelligence Community Service Operations Group, at a session during the AWS Public Sector Symposium here this week. Voultepsis said during a panel discussion the agency plans to migrate infrastructure relating to its Intelink portfolio, which provides the national security enterprise with information sharing, collaboration, and discovery services, to Amazon Web Services (AWS). 

Voultepsis's unit within the NSA will use Commercial Cloud Services (C2S), the Amazon cloud region established by the Central Intelligence Agency for classified data, which is open to all 17 federal intelligence agencies, according to Amazon officials interviewed after the panel session.

"The capabilities are there to meet our specialized needs for confidentiality, integrity and availability [of data]," Voultepsis said. "We can shift our focus from commodity things to mission-focused customer-facing things."

It's a seismic shift in the way we do business.
Alex VoultepsisNSA Intelligence Community Special Operations Group

The NSA as a whole also operates a private cloud called GovCloud, but for Voultepsis's unit, C2S offers efficiencies. 

"The infrastructure as a service which Amazon provides has shown us significant IT efficiencies," Voultepsis said, estimating that the savings on infrastructure costs alone will be between 50-55%.

While it was unclear how much of the NSA's data center had moved already, Voultepsis said the ultimate goal is to be 'all-in' and close private data centers.

**"It's a seismic shift in the way we do business," he said. "We've moved away from the concept of putting our big toe in the water with hybrid cloud, because from an efficiencies perspective, if you don't go all-in and turn off your old [assets], you never gain the efficiencies [of commodity IT]."

Asked how he imagined the deployment looking in three to five years, Voultepsis said the agency expects to analyze big data in AWS.

"The big data concept will come to fruition more broadly than it has…being able to ask questions…that you couldn't ask in the past," he said. "Federated, old-style dogpile type searches go away, and you're asking complex questions against a broad corpus of data  -- complex questions that you couldn't even dream of asking in the past."

More intelligence agencies begin the move to cloud

Other federal agencies in the intelligence community have also moved to C2S for new projects. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) was also represented on the panel by Jason Hess, cloud security manager for the office of the chief information officer.

"We've embraced the director of national intelligence's…vision of providing intelligence integration," Hess said. "We cannot continue to operate in the silo mentality of each agency not talking to each other…we're leveraging this initiative to start working together."

Hess and Kristine A Guisewite, information system security engineer from Raytheon working for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), agreed using C2S makes it easier for them to work together. It's also easier for developers to do research on the platform with the wealth of knowledge available online, then execute specific projects inside the agencies. Having a consistent operating system image deployed to an entire agency also improves security over having to maintain different versions, Guisewite said.

However, there are still some issues with moving to the cloud. Auto Scaling, for example, has been difficult for the NRO to take advantage of, because of security concerns with machines spinning up and down, the security of external interfaces that require an opening in the firewall, and resources which aren't always operating from the same IP address, according to Guisewite.

Unlike the NSA, the NGA is not 'all-in,' according to Hess. The NGA built a new building and state-of-the-art data center just three years ago that many in the agency are loath to abandon.

"It's a coalition of the willing right now," Hess said. "We're in the bottom of the first [inning] in our cloud migration."

*information added following publication

**clarity provided following publication

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for SearchAWS. Write to her at [email protected] or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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