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Policy Summary

The US Defense Department’s (DoD) $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract for the procurement of cloud computing services has been awarded to Microsoft’s Azure Cloud Computing Platform positioning the company as the provider of choice for the Pentagon and other Federal agencies for years to come. The contract spans a maximum 10 years if all options are exercised.

The announcement on October 25, 2019 concludes a multi year search for a vendor to move the DOD’s computing infrastructure from distributed government owned data centers to the public cloud infrastructure.

The system as envisioned would be a worldwide, highly available, secure, resilient cloud computing and storage environment that would seamlessly extend from the homefront to the battlefield. The JEDI cloud will be able to support the rapid development and deployment of virtually any application and protect the most sensitive national intelligence information in support of real-time decision-making. Pentagon leaders envision JEDI as including mobile, even miniaturized, backpack-portable servers that will provide tactical units with highly classified, mission-critical and actionable intelligence. Ultimately, it is hoped that JEDI will change DoD itself, transforming how it captures, processes, understands and exploits data from a myriad of sources and uses this information to drive decision making.

The announcement came two days after Defense Secretary Mark Esper recused himself from the selection process and two months after President Trump reportedly asked the newly installed Defense Secretary to reexamine the awarding of the cloud-computing contract because of concerns that the deal would go to Amazon.

Analysis

Cloud computing services are environments created by private sector software and hardware companies to facilitate the building, testing, deploying, and management of applications and services in managed data centers. The cloud provides an easy way for organizations to create and grow computing capacity without having to invest in physical plant. Amazon, through its Amazon Web Services (AWS) division, controls nearly half of the overall public-cloud infrastructure market (47.8%), leading by a wide margin Microsoft (15.5%), Alibaba (7.7%), Google (4%), and IBM (1.8%) according to Gartner Research and Analysis.

The process was mired in controversy from the outset as Amazon had a hand in writing the project specifications and was considered a front runner throughout. President Trump’s antipathy for the company and in particular its founder Jeff Bezos would seem to have played a large role in the ultimate awarding of the contract to an alternate vendor.

Large organizations worldwide have been moving their computing operations to cloud based data centers for the past few years in a trend that has seen the Federal government lagging behind. The major drivers to switching to cloud operations are costs and productivity gains that allow organizations to concentrate on their core strengths rather than having to staff data centers and provide the power, cooling, and floor space to support them.

Moving operations to the cloud does have its risks. Physically securing the infrastructure will be a new challenge and interconnectedness of systems will be a point of vulnerability. It is not at all apparent that what is good for Microsoft is good for the US military but the flexibility and scalability of the cloud environment would make this switch in technology advisable.

Whether the best player won is a serious consideration for a system that the nation will  rely on for its defense. In addition, having a single vendor supporting such a vital technology would be contrary to the notions of data and system redundancy. The President’s intercession at the 11th hour against a company that he has a history of bashing should be worrisome for the DoD and the American people.

Resistance Resources

  1. The Brookings Institute has a discussion of the JEDI procurement process and Presidential interference.
  2. Wired has a full discussion of how the process began and how it went wrong.
  3. The conservative Americans for Tax Reform oppose a single vendor approach to critical infrastructure
  4. The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) provides science-based analysis of and solutions to protect against catastrophic threats to national and international security.

 

 

Photo by unsplash-logoTadas Sar

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