pentagon cloud

DOD picks Microsoft to build its cloud

The Defense Department's $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure procurement for infrastructure and platform services has been awarded to Microsoft, positioning the company as the cloud provider of choice for the Pentagon for years to come – the  contract spans a maximum 10 years if all options are exercised.

The award was announced late in the day on Oct. 25.

Amazon Web Services was widely considered the frontrunner in the acquisition, and even joined the Department of Defense to defend a lawsuit from a vendor that didn't make the cut that alleged AWS had a hand in designing the JEDI procurement.

"We're surprised about this conclusion," an AWS spokesperson said in a statement. "AWS is the clear leader in cloud computing, and a detailed assessment purely on the comparative offerings clearly lead to a different conclusion. We remain deeply committed to continuing to innovate for the new digital battlefield where security, efficiency, resiliency, and scalability of resources can be the difference between success and failure."

The idea of a single, general-purpose cloud was first floated by DOD's acquisition chief Ellen Lord in December 2017 at the Reagan Defense Forum. A Cloud Executive Steering Group, created first outside the CIO organization and later changed to include the Pentagon's top tech officer, began to develop the idea of a single big cloud project. While defense officials were quick to point out that the DOD had many ongoing cloud projects of different natures, the new project was clearly intended as something special -- a way to share data, analytics and communications in combat and challenging forward environments to facilitate the two way sharing of information and to deliver DOD intelligence anywhere, anytime.

That proposal, as developed by Defense Digital Services chief Chris Lynch – a notorious Star Wars fan – morphed eventually into JEDI.

JEDI was controversial from the word go, with many technology experts in and around government raising concerns that a single cloud was risky for a variety of reasons.

However, the procurement proceeded with Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle submitting bids. Oracle and IBM were excluded for not meeting base requirements, leading to a lawsuit from Oracle alleging that Lynch and some defense officials with AWS ties cooked up the requirements to favor Amazon's bid. That lawsuit led to the revelations that in fact some individuals did have potential organizational conflicts of interest however a judge, a DOD review and an inspector general review agreed that the solicitation was not tainted by internal ties to outside vendors.

"Prior to the award, the department conferred with the DOD inspector general, which informed the decision to proceed," the DOD said in a press statement.

Even President Donald Trump got into the act. No fan of Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos, Trump sounded off about the controversial cloud buy in July in an Oval Office photo opportunity alongside the prime minister of the Netherlands. Once Trump weighed in, some on Capitol Hill, including Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the ranking member on the Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, went public with their concerns that political forces were having an impact on the acquisition.

Through all the storm around one of the biggest single IT procurements in government history, military officers have held tight to the position that JEDI -- or something very much like it -- is needed to drive data analytics and artificial intelligence capabilities to the edge, where they can be used in combat and strategic settings.

In a court filing in the Oracle lawsuit, Lt. Gen. Bradford Shwedo, the CIO for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, attested to the "urgency and importance" of the JEDI cloud acquisition. "JEDI Cloud is critical to safeguarding our technological advantage against those that seek to harm our nation," he said.

Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities, praised DOD's move.

“Advanced general-purpose cloud is the industry norm, and it's past time the Department of Defense had access to these capabilities. I congratulate DOD CIO Dana Deasy for seeing the JEDI award through. I look forward to continuing to use my position in Congress to increase access to next generation technologies that support our warfighters.”

FCW Staff Writer Lauren C. Williams contributed to this report. 

A longer version of this article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.

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