Competition for a multi-billion dollar Pentagon cloud contract is heating up, with a final request for proposals expected as soon as this week. The contract has been embroiled in controversy, largely over the Pentagon seeking to award the massive contract to a single cloud vendor.
The government sector is lucrative but incredibly tough to capture. The Pentagon plans to spend $1.63B on cloud through 2023, including $420M through 2020 to accelerate migration of IT systems and data to the cloud.
If you’re not one of the massive cloud companies in the running, why should you care about this? The media has largely focused on companies who aren’t Amazon crying foul. A deal worth billions is massive; enough to rule out the majority of potential bidders out of the gate. However, the JEDI ((Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure) report not only attempts to justify the single vendor approach, it claims previous hardships of going with multiple cloud vendors.
Given a lot of Internet Infrastructure industry company relationships with cloud providers is a weird dichotomy of partnering and competing, a lot of the partnering appeal hinges on the idea that customers need multiple clouds and hybrid cloud. No one cloud is the perfect fit, and the multi-cloud approach helps customers optimize both performance and cost.
In comes the Department of Defense, with massive, unruly legacy infrastructure. It institutes a cloud-first policy to reign it in and optimize. It then states that multiple vendors has the opposite impact of what a multi-cloud strategy promises.
The cloud-first policy instituted a few years ago led to upwards of 500 individual cloud efforts across the DoD. The DoD calls the current situation “reminiscent of DoD’s current legacy information technology environment”. In other words, they replicated the sprawl virtually. A problem “cloud-first” was meant to fix.
Given, the government sector isn’t exactly the best at optimizing IT, but insistence on a single vendor approach not only means bidder controversy – it somewhat undermines multi-cloud messaging.
The Pentagon feels a single vendor approach is best for rapidly delivering new capabilities to U.S. forces deployed globally. The JEDI plan argues for a single-award contract, citing pitfalls of the multi-vendor approach, such as cost and complexity. Again, these are pitfalls a multi-cloud approach is supposed to fix.
Vendors are questioning both the fairness and validity of a single vendor approach for such a massive undertaking. The Pentagon received over a thousand questions raised by 46 companies – many expressed concerns over the “winner-take-all” nature of the contract.
The Anti-Single Vendor Faction
An alliance of technology companies said an award to one bidder would all but certainly go to Amazon, given its status as the dominant provider. The DoD has been accused of tailoring the contract specifically for Amazon, which it denies.
Amazon already has a long-term contract to provide infrastructure for the intelligence community, as well as existing government secret and top-secret capabilities.
Oracle is said to be taking lead in the anti-Amazon lobby. Microsoft and IBM are also against the single vendor approach. The opposition argues the contract is so massive that awarding it to a single vendor would arguably hurt cloud industry competition and innovation. Arguments against a single vendor approach also include the likelihood of vendor and technology lock-in, dilution of the benefits of best practices, and potential negative impact on innovation, costs and security.
The Pro-Single Vendor Response
A report sent by the DoD to congressional defense committees argues that spreading information across several clouds would inhibit the ability to access and analyze critical data.
The Pentagon argues lock-in fears are unfounded, as the contract is limited to an initial two years (with options for extending as long as a decade). Critics argue the structure is just for maintaining appearances, as starting over with a new vendor after two years is highly unlikely.
The Pentagon countered by stating it also included multiple mechanisms to avoid vendor lock-in. The winning bidder is required to provide a detailed portability plan, and data will be maintained in movable containers to ensure portability.
The Layton Scale has shifted – the debate used to be around the ethics of taking on Military work
Google is one of many vying for the Pentagon cloud deal, but it’s seeing push-back on the part of employees over a prior military contract. Employees at Google are raising concerns over taking military contracts in general.
Around 4,000 Google employees signed a letter asking Google’s CEO to nix the Project Maven contract, and to avoid “the business of war” completely. The argument is it goes against the whole “don’t be evil” thing.
The Defense department previously hired the Google Cloud team to work on Project Maven. Project Maven received an additional $100M in government funding in early April.
Maven is about hooking up surveillance drones with technology to help machines think and see. Depending on who you ask, Maven is either altruistic, helping drones with tasks like discovering forgotten landmines. Or it’s responsible for enabling autonomous killing machines. No word yet on building a robocop to counter, but fingers crossed it’s a secret contingency plan.