The Pentagon’s cloud computing contract moves slightly closer to reality. (File)

WASHINGTON: The Defense Department today announced it has issued solicitations to Amazon Web Services, Google, Microsoft, and Oracle for its Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability, or JWCC, an important development in what has been the Pentagon’s longer-than-expected journey to acquire enterprise cloud computing capabilities.

JWCC is envisioned to be the Pentagon’s premier enterprise multi-vendor, multi-cloud computing contract. The program is the follow-up to the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI), cancelled by DoD acting chief information officer John Sherman in July after years of delays due to legal battles. JEDI was envisioned as a single-vendor, single-cloud computing contract worth $10 billion dollars over 10 years, which Microsoft won in October 2019. But JEDI faced legal challenges from Oracle before the contract was even awarded. Amazon then challenged the award to Microsoft, and the contract languished in legal limbo for years.

Sherman said in July the decision to scrap JEDI for JWCC reflects the fact that “[The DoD] landscape has evolved,” and JEDI’s single-vendor, single-cloud solution no longer meets the department’s requirements.

The Pentagon then began a multi-month market research process to identify all US technology vendors that are capable of meeting the DoD’s technical requirements for enterprise cloud computing. DoD’s presolicitation for JWCC, originally published in July, said that “The Government anticipates awarding two IDIQ contracts — one to Amazon Web Services, Inc. (AWS) and one to Microsoft Corporation (Microsoft) — but intends to award to all Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) that demonstrate the capability to meet DoD’s requirements.”

It also noted, “Furthermore, only two of those hyperscale CSPs — AWS and Microsoft — appear to be capable of meeting all of the DoD’s requirements at this time, including providing cloud services at all levels of national security classification.”

The Pentagon currently has 13 fit-for-purpose clouds, including milCloud 2.0, but Sherman said in July that none meet the technical requirements for a DoD enterprise cloud. Enterprise cloud includes capabilities across classification levels (unclassified, secret, top secret), integrated cross-domain solutions, global availability to the tactical edge, and enhanced cybersecurity.

The addition of Google and Oracle to the mix reflects the Pentagon’s market research findings that those two firms could eventually meet the contract’s requirements. The inability to do so immediately probably reflects the need for Google and Oracle to prove they can satisfy requirements around DoD’s stringent classification levels and integrated cross-domain solutions in the Pentagon’s environment rather than deficient technical capabilities.

Microsoft already has a significant presence in the DoD, and AWS provides cloud computing to the Intelligence Community, giving the two vendors an advantage in more immediately meeting JWCC’s requirements around classification levels.

Google’s addition is somewhat surprising since, in recent years, the tech giant has pulled away from DoD work due to internal pressure on executives from its workforce. The most visible incident came in 2018, when Google withdrew engineers from Project Maven — a Pentagon artificial intelligence initiative — due to employees’ ethical concerns around how their work would be used by DoD. Google did not bid on JEDI. The Pentagon has criticized Google for pulling back from tech projects viewed as important to national security.

The apparent omission of IBM is notable.

Sherman said in July that DoD aims to award JWCC contracts in April 2022 and that he anticipates the total price will, like JEDI, be in the billions of dollars, but he has repeatedly declined to specify a precise price.

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