There’s A Sequel for JEDI
Defense Secretary-nominee Esper will soon receive a brief on next-generation battlefield technology and the DoD move to the cloud. The question of which technology solution can best meet DoD’s cloud computing needs has been intensely debated for the past 18 months. Mr. Esper will likely hear the controversy over the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) program is an example of procurement at its worst, but it’s an example of competition – of ideas and technology – at its best. This debate has demonstrated that JEDI, as structured, will harm our military readiness because there is no one solution for cloud IT any more than there is one single platform for air superiority.
DoD operates the most complex information technology (IT) environment in the world. It includes a diverse mix of IT systems supporting missions ranging from the mundane to highly classified. It extends from core networks to the tactical edge, across connected and disconnected environments. It operates everything from commercial products to custom software in purpose-built data centers, dedicated clouds, and hybrid environments. These capabilities run in hostile environments, ships at sea, and top-secret outposts. So, while DoD wants to buy “commercial” cloud, its requirements are highly heterogeneous and unique - hardly “commercial.”
DoD must also modernize quickly to compete in an increasingly data-driven battlefield, where adversaries use IT to create strategic advantage. Rapidly adopting cloud technology is central to this modernization effort. And unlike 5G communications, the most sophisticated cloud providers are U.S.-based. DoD must embrace the rampant U.S. cloud innovation that continually offers new capabilities, more modern software, and enhanced features at better prices. Harnessing this powerful engine of innovation will enable DoD mission owners to be agile, accelerating transformation, and deployment of new capabilities.
Information technology must now be viewed as a weapons system. And just like any weapon system, DoD needs to procure the most capable solution to serve the warfighter, rather than trying to bend warfighter requirements to match the solution. JEDI’s flaws start by choosing convenience over capability. JEDI assumes cloud is a commodity, as opposed to a rapidly evolving set of technologies. It projects that one size fits most when it doesn’t. JEDI ignores innovations in areas such as data-level and microprocessor security. It slows other critical DoD efforts by asserting that advanced technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence are predicated on first adopting a single cloud when they are not.
As it stands, the JEDI Request for Proposal (RFP) is irreconcilable with both DoD's cloud strategy (released six months after the RFP), and the current consensus of how to deploy cloud technology in large-scale, mission-critical federal agencies. The Office of Management and Budget Cloud Smart strategy endorses multi-cloud and hybrid solutions, while also reinforcing that agencies define their mission before choosing cloud solutions. The Department of Homeland Security and the Navy have multi-cloud approaches. And critically, the U.S Intelligence Community, a third of which overlaps with DoD, recently announced a move to a multi-cloud strategy. In other words, before it is even awarded, JEDI is already an outlier.
Rather than pursue its current course, DoD should withdraw the JEDI RFP and move beyond now-stale Star Wars acronyms. JEDI is neither a statutory nor appropriated program. Congress has repeatedly expressed its skepticism of JEDI. Nothing is stopping DoD from immediately negotiating cloud contracts with multiple hyper-scale cloud vendors today. This will let the market bring the best solutions to the varied constituencies and missions of the DoD. National security priorities, such as processing surveillance data, tactical cloud, and AI-based solutions, can move forward immediately. DoD will be able to leverage commercial innovation and empower mission owners to buy cloud technology that best fits their requirements.
If a single vendor ends up as the correct answer for every problem, nothing is lost. And if multiple DoD mission owners select different cloud technologies for their unique requirements, the DoD will end up with better solutions at a better price – a win-win for the warfighter and the taxpayer.
Kenneth Glueck is an executive vice president at Oracle, the multinational technology company based in Redwood Shores, Calif. He directs Oracle’s Washington offices.