"Only the State of Israel will decide what is done with its information"
"We signed a contract with the government and we will fulfil it in its entirety even if there are Google employees that oppose working with Israel," said Boaz Maoz, Israel Country Director, Google Cloud
Israel's flagship cloud project, also known as Nimbus, has been at the center of discussion in the local computer industry over recent months. The two big winners of the tender, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google Cloud, are set to manage the project that will provide cloud services for Israel’s public sector and military over the coming years.
In his first interview since the results of the tender were announced, Boaz Maoz, Israel Country Director, Google Cloud, talks about the company's win and the effect Google employees will have on the project going forward.
How important was it for Google to win the Nimbus tender?
"Google sees strategic importance in Nimbus. We want to be part of Israel's digital transformation. To take Israel's successful hi-tech story and bring it to the government," said Maoz. "Google was very aggressive and very focused, targeting this project a long time ago. We are very dominant with local startup companies and we want to bring this innovation to the sector that moves the slowest - the government sector. Winning the tender and the work on it was a strategic target for Google, and not just in Israel, but globally. Google has been very successful in Israel. It has a very large engineering team here and the advertising revenue generated in the country is significant. The contract with the government of Israel, which is one of the first governments to go all-in on the cloud, was very important to us. Winning this tender positions us very strongly and the trust Google received from the government of Israel is significant."
The four phases of the Nimbus project, which was launched in 2019, include acquisition and construction of cloud infrastructure, formulating government policy for migrating to the cloud, integration and migration, and control and optimization of cloud activity. The companies will initially provide services to the government with their infrastructure that is based abroad, but from 2023 will begin to do so through the data centers they will set up in Israel.
Oracle, which lost out in the tender, recently appealed the decision, asking the Jerusalem District Court to rule that AWS's application be canceled as it was filed too late and included a disclaimer, which wasn’t permitted in the tender. Oracle requested that the court cancel the results of the tender and order the ministry to either conduct a reexamination of the financial stage or alternatively cancel the tender completely.
According to Oracle's petition, AWS included a disclaimer in its tender application according to which it can change its offer should there be any change in the services the company offers. AWS was the biggest winner of the tender and according to this disclaimer, it could legally demand to make significant changes to its offering.
Oracle CEO Safra Catz visited Israel last week and didn't disguise her displeasure from the results of the tender, claiming that the Ministry of Finance mustn't have had all the information when it made its decision. The tender now seems set to be suspended for a couple of months after Judge Ram Winograd offered the relevant parties, which include the different tech companies and the Ministry of Finance, to halt the tender in order to discuss Oracle's appeal.
"This kind of tender can't rely completely on Israeli staff," said Maoz. "For two years we received assistance from hundreds of Google employees in different fields like legal and business, led by the Israeli team and our experts. But it was a company effort with full transparency with the Google CEO and the Google Cloud CEO. Google CEO Sundar Pichai was involved in the tender and gave his blessing to whatever we needed."
The government of Israel has defined 2023 as the final date for the start of cloud activity in Israel. When will Google's local cloud be up and running?
"Our contract with the government is signed and sealed and we have been working on it for two years. Everything is ready from a contractual standpoint and we are aiming to be the first to be active in Israel. We won't disclose where we will be setting up our cloud center, but we will be the first. In any country that we set up a local cloud we build three different data centers, which is what Israel also demanded."
What will you offer the government to do until the local cloud center is operational?
"The Accountant General in the Ministry of Finance did a wonderful job in managing the tender. I have never seen such an open, honest and fair tender. There was a strict list of demands and we met them all. Some of them regarded what we will do until our local cloud will be operational. The demand was that we use centers abroad in the meantime and we offered two locations outside of Israel that meet all the standards."
Oracle CEO Safra Catz said that if there is an employee who isn't happy about working with Israel then he isn't worthy of working at the company. There was a petition by Google employees against the cooperation with Israel. What will happen if Google employees demand to cancel the contract with the government?
"Google signed a contract with the government. We respect the opinions of all the company's employees and listen to them. But the opinions of the employees don't affect the way we run our business. We will honor every word in the contract."
There is a fear that information belonging to the State of Israel will leak from the Google servers, especially when this information will be stored outside of the country's borders. How will you prevent that?
"Google doesn't determine anything for any of its users or for Israel. The only one who will determine where the information will be stored and what will be done with it is the State of Israel. The information belongs to the State of Israel and not to Google. We have the highest possible level of privacy and security. We met all the standards set in the tender by the government and the military and even added on top of that our own encryption. In addition, we have our own fiber optics which ensure that the government's information won't run on the internet should it ask not to do so. We don't own the data, we don't look at it and don't read it. We don't have any back door or opening through which we will be able to access the information of the Israeli
Google has terms of service which could contradict the laws in Israel. What will happen if that will be the case?
"We have our terms of service in the cloud and they are transparent to the government. We signed a contract with the government and we are 100% committed to it. There is no contradiction between those two contracts. They read our terms of service and we will fulfill the contract in its entirety."