One cloud to rule them all at DOD?

Acquisitions chief Ellen Lord hints that DOD is closing in on a solicitation for a single cloud to dramatically advance data interoperability at the Pentagon.

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Ellen Lord - Textron DOD ATL USD
 

Pentagon acquisitions chief Ellen Lord hinted in a recent appearance that the DOD is closing in on an enterprise-wide cloud solution.

Ellen Lord, the Pentagon acquisitions chief, said the Department of Defense is closing in on a solicitation to dramatically advance its scale in cloud computing.

"We are, no kidding, right now writing the contract to get everything moved to one cloud to begin with and then go from there," Lord said in a Dec. 3 panel discussion at the Reagan Defense Forum in Simi Valley, Calif.

Lord said the big problem is that "we are not leveraging everything even within one service or across the services," meaning that drones and tanks and ships and ground troops can't always share data in real time, and can't contribute data to central repositories to allow for machine intelligence to assist in warfighting.

"A fundamental shift we're making is to move the entire DOD to the cloud so our data can be shared and leveraged and we can do big data analytics," she said. "We can do artificial intelligence. This again is a question of scale."

Many in industry have been trying to ward off a single-source cloud strategy since the Department of Defense announced an aggressive, enterprise-wide cloud adoption plan in a Sept. 13 memo from Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan.

The memo announced the formation of a Cloud Executive Steering Group, chaired by Lord and including the heads of Defense Digital Service, the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, the Defense Innovation Board and the Strategic Capabilities Office as voting members.

The Professional Services Council, in its response to a request for information from industry, urged DOD to "at least consider a multi cloud contract, should [request for proposal] responses indicate an advantage to doing so." PSC said that even if DOD makes an award to a single vendor, "there appears to be additional opportunity for multiple award contracts for consulting, migration services, training and related service."

Pentagon spokesperson Cmdr. Patrick Evans told FCW via email that, "the contracting action is a full and open competition. The [CESG] is aggressively analyzing information in order to determine how many contracts will best meet DoD's needs. It is too early to reach any conclusions at this time."

Still, many in industry have expressed concerns that the CESG is headed toward a single-cloud solution. These concerns were augmented by recent language in a redacted Air Force award, which explained a decision to make a sole-source procurement of an Amazon Web Services cloud by noting, "The AWS Cloud solution is a DOD priority as per the Secretary of Defense Memorandum dated 13 Sep 2017."

While AWS was not cited in that document, recent moves to consolidate intelligence community cloud services under Amazon are causing some to worry that the company is extending its first-mover advantage in the government space.

"The fear of Amazon is becoming greater as their penetration of the government market increases," one federal technology watcher told FCW.

There are also practical concerns about relying on a single vendor.

"In this case I don't think sole source is a good idea," former federal CIO Tony Scott told FCW in an email. "It's not a concern that it might be Amazon per se, or anyone else for that matter. Each of the major players has a solid offering. The concern is that in this world where there is tremendous downward pressure on price, and tremendous expansion of capabilities by almost every supplier, I can’t fathom why sole source makes sense."

Scott said that a multi-cloud approach will make DOD a better user of the technology, and pointed out that using multiple vendors "will tend to reduce risk if there is a failure by one supplier for any reason, whether technical or not."

The DOD already has a commercial cloud contract in place with the Defense Systems Information Agency's milCloud 2.0, which made a $498 million award to CSRA in June 2017.

According to a DISA spokesperson, milCloud 2.0 "is on track for Initial Operating Capability in early 2018 and aims to reduce DOD's total cost of ownership for infrastructure services, validate the transition and adoption of cloud technologies across the department, and scale computing resources based on operational mission partner requirements."

David Wennergren, who served as both deputy CIO and assistant deputy chief management officer for DOD, FCW that he didn't think Lord's remarks signaled an impending award or even a sole source approach. He pointed out that the steering group would create a separate team for the nuts and bolts of carrying out such a major acquisition program.

"Four or five senior leaders at the Department of Defense are not going to do a mega contract," Wennergren, who is now a Deloitte managing director, said.

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