BREAKING: Pentagon Cancels JEDI Program, Launches New Cloud Computing Effort

By Jon Harper

Photo: iStock

The Defense Department is canceling the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud computing program — also known as JEDI — and pursuing a new effort aimed at better meeting warfighter needs, the Pentagon announced July 6.

The $10 billion JEDI program was awarded to Microsoft in 2019, which surprised some observers when it beat out Amazon Web Services. However, AWS has been battling in the courts to have the award overturned, arguing — among other complaints — that former President Donald Trump’s feud with Amazon and its leader Jeff Bezos biased the department against the company. The Pentagon has denied that allegation.

Now, the Defense Department is jettisoning the delayed program altogether and has initiated termination of the contact with Microsoft.

“The department has determined that, due to evolving requirements, increased cloud conversancy, and industry advances, the JEDI cloud contract no longer meets its needs,” the Pentagon said in a press release.

With the JEDI decision, the Defense Department also announced its plans for a new multi-cloud initiative known as the Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability, or JWCC. It must provide capabilities at all three classification levels — Unclassified, Secret and Top Secret — and parity of services across all classification levels; integrated cross-domain solutions; global availability including at the tactical edge; and enhanced cybersecurity controls, according to the Pentagon.

“JEDI, conceived with noble intent at a baseline now several years old, was developed at a time when the department's needs were different and our cloud conversancy less mature,” Acting Pentagon Chief Information Officer John Sherman told reporters during a teleconference. “Our landscape has evolved and a new way ahead is warranted. The JWCC's multi-cloud environment will serve our future in a way that JEDI's single-award, single-cloud structure simply cannot do.”

Other Pentagon initiatives such as joint-all domain command and control, or JADC2, and the artificial intelligence and data acceleration initiative, or ADA, have heightened the need for a new approach, he said. JADC2 and ADA are aimed at bolstering the military’s communication network and helping it better link its sensors and shooters and crunch data.

The Defense Department already utilizes various types of cloud services, “but nothing to the extent and reach that the enterprise capability we're seeking to acquire from this will provide … from the headquarters to the tactical edge at all three security levels, at scale,” Sherman said of JWCC.

The Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability is envisioned as a “multi-cloud,” multi-vendor project.

“Given how the landscape again has shifted not only in government, but in the private sector, you must have multi-cloud really to be as successful as you can be, to go with a best fit for your mission needs given the varying capabilities that each of the [cloud service providers] bring to the fight in their given area,” Sherman said.

The department intends to seek proposals from both Microsoft and Amazon Web Services.

“Available market research indicates that these two vendors are the only cloud service providers (CSPs) capable of meeting the department’s requirements,” according to the press release. “However, as noted in its pre-solicitation notice [that is being issued], the department will immediately engage with industry and continue its market research to determine whether any other U.S.-based hyperscale CSPs can also meet the DoD’s requirements.”

The Pentagon plans to conduct its additional market research between now and mid-October, at which point it plans to issue solicitations to both Microsoft and AWS, and potentially other vendors that could provide the required capabilities, Sherman said. Other vendors that the Pentagon will reach out to include Google, Oracle and IBM, he noted.

By April 2022, the department aims to issue direct awards of indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts to multiple vendors, Sherman said. They will have a performance period of no more than five years, consisting of a three-year performance base period and two one-year option periods.

“The department currently believes that the capabilities needed to meet the DoD’s requirements are available from only a limited number of responsible sources, and that no other type of supplies or services will satisfy agency requirement. As such … full and open competition need not be utilized,” the press release noted.

The department has yet to determine what the maximum value of the procurement will be, but Sherman said it will have a multi-billion dollar ceiling.

Although Microsoft and Amazon will likely win awards, their selection is not guaranteed, Sherman said. “But based on our market research, we believe that the proposals they would provide to us will have the right bona fides for the capabilities we need,” he added.

Sherman was asked about the extent to which the delays in the JEDI effort played a role in the Pentagon’s decision to cancel the program and move on to something else.

“The mission needs have been our primary driver on this,” he said. ‘In so far as the litigation is concerned, we've been at this for a few years now and the evolving landscape and mission drivers that have happened in that interim period is what's driven our new way of thinking about what we really need based on our engagement with the stakeholders here in the department. So that's how I would say the litigation has affected us.”

As it pursues JWCC, the Pentagon will develop a longer-term plan for a multi-cloud procurement via a full and open industry competition. That competition could come as early as 2025, Sherman said.

“For the near term, however, we are confident that the direct award path is absolutely required and appropriate to enable us to bring urgently needed enterprise cloud capabilities to the force,” he added.

The JWCC will serve as a “bridge” capability as the Pentagon fleshes out its longer-term approach, he said. Early 2025 will be around the time that the base period ends for the contracts that are expected to be issued next year, he noted. However, “because of the complexity of this, because of many factors and evolving needs, and so on, we're giving ourselves a little bit of extra there with the two one-year options,” Sherman said.

National Defense asked Sherman if the Pentagon is concerned that other cloud service providers besides AWS and Microsoft will challenge the contract awards for JWCC if they are excluded, resulting in the kinds of delays that the department faced with JEDI.

“We can never control for every factor,” he said. However, “our openness of this [market research phase] is going to be critical on that point.”

Topics: Infotech, Information Technology, Cyber

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