Dec 17 2019

How the DOD Plans to Bring Its JEDI Cloud Contract to Life

The Pentagon is proceeding with its major commercial cloud contract, which it awarded to Microsoft.

On Oct. 25, the Defense Department awarded its Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud contract to Microsoft, capping a yearslong effort to start deploying commercial cloud capabilities for Infrastructure as a Service and Platform as a Service. That was just the beginning. 

Senior Microsoft leaders — including CEO Satya Nadella, Toni Townes-Whitley (one of FedTech’s 30 Federal IT Influencers Worth a Follow in 2019), Jason Zander, Tom Keane and Mark Russinovich — were scheduled to meet with Pentagon officials last week to lay the foundation for working together, Nextgov reports. Nadella and members of the Microsoft Azure and public sector teams were to meet with DOD CIO Dana Deasy and other senior DOD technology leaders from Dec. 11-13 as part of “requisite activities to prepare the cloud environment,” the department confirmed to Nextgov.

“The Department of Defense is confident in the JEDI Cloud Contract award and remains focused on getting this critical capability into the hands of our warfighters as quickly and efficiently as possible,” DOD spokeswoman Elissa Smith told Nextgov. “The department’s Cloud Computing Program Office continues to work with Microsoft to prepare the JEDI Cloud environment.”

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DOD Lays the Groundwork for JEDI

DOD has chosen 14 entities to act as pathfinders for the cloud’s capabilities. Deasy says those Pentagon components — which include the U.S. Special Operations Command, the U.S Transportation Command and the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center — will be the first to use JEDI on a more tactical level, according to Federal News Network

“These early adopters have unique missions that are more than just using JEDI for base compute, raw storage capacity, and want to do real unique platform-for-service opportunities on top of that,” Deasy said Thursday at the Northern Virginia Chapter of AFCEA’s Air Force IT Day in Arlington, Va. “The variety of the early adopters allows us to test various principles on JEDI from the tactical edge all the way to the top secret needing to use the cross domain.” 

Deasy indicated the pathfinder components will be able “to learn quickly what it takes to go from the strategic vision to stand up and bring JEDI capabilities to life,” Federal News Network reports. 

Shortly after the contract was awarded, Peter Ranks, a deputy CIO at the DOD, told reporters after speaking at a Professional Services Council event that awarding JEDI was a “prerequisite” to faster software development. DOD must modernize the way it builds software as it shifts to commercial cloud infrastructure. 

“If we get modern cloud infrastructure but don’t modernize the way we build software, we will not achieve the promises of cloud computing. We want software capabilities in the hands of warfighters faster,” Ranks said during his Vision Federal Market Forecast keynote, according to MeriTalk. “We want software that can adjust to changing requirements or the changing dynamics of the battlefield more quickly. That is what’s driving our cloud strategy.”

“We have fooled ourselves into thinking that if we can just hire the cloud provider, it will solve all those problems. Hiring the cloud provider wasn’t supposed to be the hard part,” Ranks added. “Like any other weapons system, mastery of the weapons system is really where the challenge comes in,” he added.

The DOD has struggled to run applications, such as the Global Command & Control System – Joint, across all combatant commands because the cloud infrastructures of the Army, Air Force and Navy vary widely. Ranks said JEDI aims to fix such issues. 

“What we need is a focused effort to make sure that we have a provider that is filling the gaps in that current multi-cloud solution,” he said, according to FedScoop. “For all the cloud providers we have today, they still haven’t solved those problems of classification, tactical edge and something that is common across the enterprise.”

Court documents indicate that the DOD has agreed not to proceed with performance under JEDI until at least Feb. 11, aside from “initial preparatory activities,” pending a lawsuit Amazon Web Services filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims over the award, according to NextGov. 

Microsoft says it is pushing ahead with its work on the contract. “As the selected contractor to support [the Defense Department] in its mission to modernize its enterprise cloud, we are diligently working with the Cloud Computing Program Office to bring this critical new technology to our men and women in uniform,” a Microsoft spokesperson told Nextgov.

Rudi Riet/Flickr, Creative Commons