Pentagon Cloud Computing Enterprise Finally Moves Forward

By Sean Carberry

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ARLINGTON, Virginia ­ — After years of awards, protests, revisions and delays, the Defense Department issued a $9 billion enterprise cloud contract it believes fixes flaws that led to the cancellation of its predecessor, the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI.

Whereas the JEDI was a single-vendor award —that was protested and later scrapped — the Joint War­fighting Cloud Capability contract, or JWCC, has been awarded to Amazon Web Services, Google, Microsoft and Oracle. Each vendor is guaranteed $100,000 and will then bid for task orders, explained Defense Department Chief Information Officer John Sherman during a press conference.

“What this brings us is direct access to these cloud service providers without going through an intermediary or reseller,” he said.

The contract — which runs for three years with two option years — requires all four vendors to be able to provide services at the unclassified, secret and top-secret levels, he said.

“Now we’ve got other types of clouds here within the department, but none of them do this at all three security classification levels, spanning the entire enterprise from the continental United States, all the way up to what we call the tactical edge,” he added.

The tactical edge is perhaps where cloud capability is most needed, said Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert Skinner, director of the Defense Information Systems Agency.

“It’s this information, these applications that are churning out the right information at the right time at the right level, that enable us to have that decision advantage … but also allows us to have that tactical advantage,” he said.

Sharon Woods, director of DISA’s Hosting and Compute Center, said warfighters “need to be able to collect and process data at the point of need” rather than backhaul data to higher levels to process. JWCC “takes cloud and puts it into a smaller form factor that becomes portable, and so that can go with the warfighter as opposed to having to do the backhaul,” she said.

While the multi-vendor award should prevent a protest of the contract, competitors could protest individual task orders, Woods said. Ideally, government evaluators will complete task order awards in a matter of weeks to months, “but we need to work through the specifics, and we’ll learn as we go in the beginning,” she said.

Sherman noted that JWCC will serve as a “binding element” to realize the enterprise compute capability of joint all-domain command and control. He said the contract is as much of a cultural shift as a technical one.

Both shifts could be difficult for a department that has long struggled with adapting to new technology, said Teri Takai, former Defense Department chief information officer, during an interview.

The department is going to have to pay more attention to data standards. “They’re going to have to put in standards and ground rules for that sharing of data,” she said.

Data has always been a struggle for the department, she said. “So, that’s going to continue to be an issue and it’s going to have the added complexity of working with the cloud providers” who have their own rules and applications for moving data.

Other challenges include the fact that some cloud applications are vendor specific, the task order process could be cumbersome and migrating from one cloud provider to another could be complicated.

“The last one is that they’re still going to have to figure out how actually to manage usage,” she said. There will need to be a mechanism to monitor cloud usage to avoid runaway costs, she added.

Furthermore, the extent to which operators at the tactical edge will see a benefit from cloud services isn’t yet clear, she said.

Still, moving to the cloud is an essential step, she said. “The DoD really does have to continue to move forward as the technology is moving forward. But it doesn’t simplify it and make it easy. It just means that there’s another added complexity that they have to work with.”


Topics: Infotech, Cloud Computing, Defense Department

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