JEDI Will Be a Cloud Like No Other

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The Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract will create a cloud like no other, private or public. The Department of Defense (DoD) is asking commercial cloud providers to build a “worldwide, highly available, exponentially elastic, secure, resilient cloud computing and storage environment that seamlessly extends from the homefront to the tactical edge.” The JEDI cloud will be able to support the rapid development and deployment of virtually any application, store, move, and protect the most sensitive national intelligence information, and support real-time decision-making. Pentagon leaders envision JEDI as including mobile, even miniaturized, backpack-portable servers that will provide tactical units with highly classified, mission-critical and actionable intelligence. Ultimately, it is hoped that JEDI will change DoD itself, transforming how it captures, processes, understands and exploits data from a myriad of sources and uses this information to fight.

JEDI is by no means DoD’s only cloud. Some years ago, the Pentagon decided to take a decentralized approach to the acquisition of cloud computing services allowing the military, defense agencies, and even components to pursue cloud computing in whatever way they thought best fit their needs. Today the Pentagon operates over 500 clouds. Often, defense entities have access to multiple clouds.

In the absence of an overall cloud migration strategy at the time and desirous of taking advantage of the rapid advances being made in the field of cloud computing, the decentralized approach made sense. But it also resulted in many problems for users and limitations on how cloud computing could be employed as a warfighting tool. According to a May 2018 report by the Pentagon’s Chief Management Officer, this decentralized approach "created numerous seams, incongruent baselines and additional layers of complexity for managing data and services at an enterprise level. Scattering DOD's data across a multitude of clouds further inhibits the ability to access and analyze critical data." In addition, there was no common approach to or set of top-level standards for securing these various clouds.

DoD is looking to use JEDI and other new, large, multi-year cloud computing contracts, such as Defense Enterprise Office Solution (DEOS) to address many of these problems. JEDI will establish a common operating baseline and set of interfaces to support the widest possible array of applications, both commercial and government purpose-built. It will reduce the total number of DoD clouds and data centers, which will reduce costs and speed access to and exploitation of data.

These newer contracts will have to meet the more rigorous security standards set by the Defense Information Security Administration (DISA) in 2015. It makes no sense to take advantage of the benefits of commercial cloud capabilities if it puts government classified data at risk. Companies competing for DEOS will have to show they can operate at DISA Impact Level 5, while those going after the JEDI contract have to demonstrate in their proposal submissions that within six months of the award they could reach DISA Impact Level 6, which ensures the ability to protect secret data. If the goal for JEDI is to use it to develop mission orders, generate targeting information, and conduct multi-domain operations, Impact Level 6 security must be the minimum standard.

Critics of the approach DoD is taking with JEDI fail to appreciate that this is a unique venture. JEDI will be a national security cloud built primarily from commercial cloud technologies and applications. It will be asked to support activities and missions, unlike any conducted in other government cloud environments. JEDI is, in part, an experiment to see if the enormous potential of cloud computing can be leveraged in support of national security missions. Hence, the way private companies and other parts of the federal government acquire cloud service is not sufficient for DoD. Christopher Lynch, the former director of the Defense Digital Service, made this point clearly: “JEDI is not about commercial cloud. JEDI is a platform to run the mission of national defense across the world, with access to unlimited compute and storage, or nearly unlimited. We do not have that today, and there are dire consequences.”

JEDI will be DoD's first war cloud. Hence, as many Pentagon officials have argued, the single-award contract is needed to avoid being limited by the slow pace of a multiple-award contract followed by the requirement to compete each task order. The situation would be even more difficult to manage if among the winners of an award were companies that were not able to meet the Impact Level 6 security standard. In addition, fully exploiting the potential of artificial intelligence to support military operations requires an enterprise-wide cloud solution that can access the greatest volume of real-time data, apply the most appropriate applications and analytic software and move actionable intelligence to the tactical edge where it can be exploited.

Opponents of the current JEDI acquisition strategy, which is based on a single award and high-security requirement, would force DoD to go backward regarding exploiting cloud computing's potential. They are at best misguided or, at worst, self-serving. Personal and private use of cloud computing is transforming the IT marketplace, challenging established software, and IT service companies to change their business model or be replaced. The same holds true for the ways contracts such as JEDI and DEOS could change how government, in general, and the national security establishment, in particular, creates and exploits new public-private cloud environments.

Dan Gouré, Ph.D., is a vice president at the public-policy research think tank Lexington Institute. Goure has a background in the public sector and U.S. federal government, most recently serving as a member of the 2001 Department of Defense Transition Team. You can follow him on Twitter at @dgoure and the Lexington Institute @LexNextDC. Read his full bio here.

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