Q: Does Amazon do private cloud? A: It’s complicated

If the CIA cloud being built by Amazon(s amzn) Web Services is not a private cloud, I’m not sure what would be. In theory, it will be used by single, albeit large, customer so there is no shared infrastructure and no “noisy neighbor” problem, but it would provide the elasticity to spin up/shut down workloads for that single customer. Sounds pretty private to me.

AWS SVP Andy Jassy speaking at AWS re:Invent.

AWS SVP Andy Jassy speaking at AWS re:Invent.

But not so fast. AWS execs parsed their words carefully when asked this question this week at the Amazon re:Invent conference in Las Vegas.

Asked if this single-user cloud, which AWS will build under a $600 million contract, is a private-cloud departure for the public cloud giant, Andy Jassy, AWS senior vice president, said: “Not really. I would say no.”

AWS might in the future work with a small number of companies that for regulatory or other reasons cannot move some workloads to a public cloud, he said, provided the opportunity is big enough. “The most cost-effective and scalable option is to use the public cloud that provides elasticity you don’t have to manage.”

But in that small number of cases, AWS might help those companies pursue the same ends in a slightly different way which is to build their cloud with “our hardware, our networking and everything delivered as a service” to give those customers the advantages of AWS, Jassy told the media in a Q&A after his keynote at AWS re:Invent.

Adam Selipsky, AWS VP of Marketing, Sales, Product Management and Support, echoed those words almost verbatim in an interview Wednesday afternoon. The CIA cloud is not really a private cloud, he said, because “we deliver it as a service that we manage, we do the hardware and storage” in a way that might be applicable for a small number of customers.

As we have reported (or speculated) in the past, it wouldn’t be all that difficult for AWS to package up a bunch of “mini me” AWS clouds and set them up in geographies where there is sensitivity about where data resides and where workloads are executed.

Okay, the CIA project is a cloud for a single customer, but then again that customer paid $600 million, presumably up front for this monster, so that pretty much blows that whole pay-as-you-go cloud thing out of the water.

So, there you have it.