The Defense Department said it’s still on track to deliver an up to $9 billion suite of cloud computing contracts to serve both its business and warfighting needs, but its enterprise cloud ambitions will have to endure yet another delay.
The department has been in talks with the four companies it picked for directed solicitations since January, when their initial proposals were due. But John Sherman, DoD’s chief information officer, said the negotiations with Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Oracle turned out to be more complex and time-consuming than the department initially expected.
“It’s just the amount of workload going between four proposals. We’ve got a good team with all the right expertise on this, but doing the due diligence and an iterative back-and-forth is taking longer than we had projected when we announced this last July,” he told reporters. “So there’s no problem with anything, it’s just a matter of doing this really unprecedented enterprise cloud procurement here in the DoD.”
Although the department is involved in discussions with all four companies it sent solicitations to last fall, none of them are guaranteed to receive an award. Sherman declined to say whether the negotiations thus far have changed DoD’s views on whether all four companies can still meet its needs. The department decided early on that one of the five U.S.-based “hyperscale” firms, IBM, could not.
Once the awards are made, the department expects JWCC to start delivering services at the unclassified level almost immediately. The new cloud ecosystem should be able to process secret-level data 60 days afterward, and top secret-level services should be available within 180 days of the awards.
Unlike its vision for the JEDI contract, the department does not intend to mandate JWCC’s use across the military services, and the departments of the Army, Navy and Air Force will still be allowed to use the cloud contracts they’ve created on their own.
But officials emphasize that JWCC, if it works as intended, will be the first DoD cloud environment that will operate at all three of the department’s security classification levels, and also provide services to the “tactical edge” of military missions.
“The other thing that’s important to note is the reason why the department is able to do a multi-cloud, multi-vendor approach, is that both the department and the cloud service providers have evolved with their technology for data portability,” said Danielle Metz, the deputy DoD CIO for information enterprise. “So that’s now an option for us to be able to work through for workloads on current cloud contracts to be able to migrate to JWCC. So those are learning activities that we will have once we have the JWCC in place.”
But even assuming no more schedule slippages, it will have taken DoD more than five years between the time officials first conceptualized an “enterprise cloud” under the former JEDI construct and the time JWCC finally begins accepting orders from Defense agencies and military services.
Still, Sherman said the department believes it’s constructing the project in a way that will keep the concept and its underlying technologies relevant throughout JWCC’s up-to-five year ordering period.
“These four cloud providers have continued to modernize their technology, and we’re not going to end up buying yesterday’s solutions for tomorrow. These are very modernized CSP offerings that we’re assessing right now,” he said. “And our decision last year was itself a step for the department – going from a single-vendor, single-cloud approach in JEDI to a potential multi-vendor multi-cloud approach. So we are firmly confident that we are moving towards a modern solution for our modern warfighting needs against our pacing challenge, and anybody or anything else that we need to confront as a department.”
Under DoD’s current plan, each participant in JWCC will receive its own single-award indefinite-delivery/indefinite quantity contract. That means each time one of DoD’s components wants to place an order for cloud services, the department itself will decide which vendor is best for its needs, using on ordering tool called “AT-AT,” housed at the Defense Information System’s Agency’s new Hosting and Compute Center.
That’s a stark contrast to the government’s usual approach to multiple-award procurements, where each vendor has a place on a single contract vehicle, and the government asks each of them to bid on individual task orders.
The JWCC approach likely means task orders won’t be subject to any bid protest processes, since it won’t involve bids at all.
But Metz said DoD chose that design for JWCC mainly to avoid the task order bid and proposal process, which can be relatively lengthy, even under normal ID/IQ processes that don’t involve full-and-open competition.
“Normally, when we do task order competitions, it can take up to 45 days, and that is unsatisfactory. The team has been working really hard to streamline that and get it down to five to 10 days,” Metz said during a keynote interview at Federal News Network’s 2022 Cloud Exchange. “The contracting officers will be the ones creating white-glove treatment, working with the mission partners to refine requirements to populate into pre-populated templates. And once we have task orders awarded, the mission partner will be able to see their services and consumption rates. That will be their portal into how they’ll be able to manage their their the capabilities that they just purchased.”