AWS or Microsoft Azure Poised to Become Military’s Sole JEDI Cloud Provider

The Pentagon’s single-provider plan raises questions among IT experts.

Jeff Burt

July 19, 2019

6 Min Read
Military_defense cloud

Oracle’s complaint about the Defense Department’s plans to award the $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud project contract to Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure has gotten the lion’s share of attention over the past several months from journalists, analysts and Republican politicians in Washington D.C., most recently reportedly President Trump.

However, at a time when enterprises and other organizations are increasingly embracing multicloud and hybrid cloud strategies, some industry observers are questioning why the DoD has decided to award the JEDI contract to a single cloud provider, as well as to move everything into the cloud.


Unitas Global’s Chris Smith

“They’re trying to go from an on-prem infrastructure — which is like most organizations that are intrigued in having a cloud strategy — but research shows that the use case for most companies … is a hybrid strategy,” Chris Smith, vice president of cloud architecture at Unitas Global, a managed cloud services provider that works with AWS, Azure and Google Cloud Platform, told Channel Futures. “What the government is looking to do with their JEDI project is to put everything into a cloud, [onto] one single cloud platform.”

The idea of adopting a plan calling for a single cloud provider has been a point of contention for lawmakers, who last year asked the DoD to justify its decision. In response, agency officials in December released a document outlining a cloud strategy that eventually will include a general-purpose cloud — JEDI — and a number of what they call “fit for purpose” clouds. They also admitted that going forward, the military will continue to need on-premises data centers for some workloads, though as more move to the clouds, the non-cloud environments will shrink.

The JEDI cloud will be commercially built and operated and will be used to run mission-critical workloads and store classified and tactical military information that can be used by combat warriors around the world, essentially moving the data out to the DoD’s edge environments. It also will be a place for leveraging such emerging technologies as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.

In a legislative report issued by Congress in March 2018, lawmakers stated that the Pentagon needed to develop two of its own reports related to its cloud plans, including one outlining justifying “executing a single-award contract rather than creating an infrastructure capable of storing and sharing data across multiple cloud computing service providers concurrently, to include data migration and middleware costs.”

The JEDI plans have since gone forward with the intention of using a single cloud provider. Unitas’ Smith said there are a few possible explanations why the military is going in that direction. It might be that a single provider given a 10-year, $10 billion contract will give the Pentagon a particularly good deal for that kind of spend, he said. Such a situation also might be the best way to handle the classified information the DoD holds and also may allow the military not to have to worry about the various cloud environments being run by other government agencies and divisions.

Roger Kay, principal analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates, told Channel Futures that the Pentagon also may not want to worry with such issues as connectivity that might arise when using multiple cloud vendors.


Liftr Cloud Insights’ Paul Teich

However, Paul Teich, principal analyst with Liftr Cloud Insights, doubts whether a single-provider approach is best for the military and JEDI. Organizations go the multicloud route to take advantage of proprietary cloud features from the various providers that will help with performance or cost depending on the workload and to run a single application across multiple clouds for various reasons, such as scale or geography.

“The current early state of maturity of the cloud industry puts most developers in the first bucket — and that is the challenge with awarding the JEDI contract to only one cloud provider,” Teich told Channel Futures. “No single cloud provider is best at everything. That is a ridiculous assumption, but it is the default assumption of a single-vendor award. Each cloud provider has distinct strengths and distinct weaknesses.”

He added using one cloud provider for JEDI “means that …

… innovation available in other clouds would not be available under JEDI contract procurement. Cloud innovation moves fast, so current innovations in AI and deep learning, classic data analysis, real-time data collection and synthesis, and the like might not be available under the contract at any given time.”

Smith said that for smaller IT environments, putting everything into the cloud can work. However, with larger organizations, it makes less sense. Some applications work best in on-premises data centers, he said, adding that few cloud architecture designs include putting everything into the cloud, which is why hybrid approaches are being embraced by enterprises.

Liftr’s Teich also said that cloud environments are different from traditional data centers when talking about buying and managing infrastructure. When there were only on-premises environments, a single vendor for hardware or software “was a viable ‘one throat to choke’ procurement strategy in case something went wrong. A bit of a hedge, but IT procurement had learned painful lessons about putting too many vendors in the mix. Finger-pointing between vendors had been known to prevent efficient and timely support.”

However, with the cloud, organizations “don’t have a bunch of expensive hardware laying around and software licensing is much different. If you don’t like how your app performs in one cloud, you can, with a little time and expense, port your software and move your data to another cloud. But the business friction is much lower, it is nowhere near as expensive as deciding to replace one hardware OEM with another hardware OEM or with exiting a big on-prem enterprise software licensing deal.”

Now that a court has dismissed Oracle’s complaint about alleged problems with the procurement process, the DoD next month is expected to name AWS or Azure as the contract winner. However, the path forward still has potential hurdles. Several Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin — chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee — and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida have written letters to Defense officials question the process.

In addition, Trump reportedly is requesting more information about the process for awarding the JEDI contract.

The awarding of the contract will have a significant impact on the competitive cloud market, according to Unitas’ Smith. Right now, AWS holds a dominant share in the market, with Azure and Google Cloud following. However, a $10 billion contract would be a boon for any cloud provider, fueling significant R&D advantages over its rivals.

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