Navy emphasizes cloud in upcoming NGEN competition

Five years ago, the program manager then in charge of Navy networks described his service’s reasoning for moving to the Next Generation Enterprise Network as akin to knowing the cost of a carton of eggs: It’s reasonable to ask how much the styrofoam container itself costs if you’re buying almost a million per day.

To deconstruct that IT analogy and fast forward through a few years of history, the Navy successfully moved in 2013 from outsourcing the entirety of its 800,000-seat Navy-Marine Corps Intranet to a single vendor, HP. Yes, the same firm wound up winning the first NGEN contract and still operates the Navy portion of NMCI, but the government now controls the physical and intellectual property that make up NMCI, so, at least in theory, it’s free to switch to cardboard containers or a cholesterol-free diet.

That brings us to last week, when the Navy released a request for information flagging cloud computing as one of the IT domains that it may break apart from the next NGEN contract — expected to be awarded to a new vendor or vendors sometime next year.

The document asks any and all interested parties to lay out any potential solutions for private clouds – for government use only, but constructed and possibly housed by commercial vendors – noting that “federal and DoD policy directs cloud-based solutions be considered prior to any information system procurement,” and asking for ideas on how to “change users thinking from the current NMCI/NGEN implementation model so customers are willing to adopt cloud technologies.”

In less formal venues, Navy officials have already said that they view the upcoming NGEN recompete as the Navy’s best opportunity for embracing commercial cloud and that they hope to use the contract to pursue an existing strategy to move up to 75 percent of their data to commercial cloud platforms.

The Navy has already established a cloud access point to connect its NMCI networks with commercial cloud providers and is in the process of creating a “Cloud Store” to let individual commands buy cloud computing services.

A separate RFI for the upcoming NGEN recompetition, issued in December, pointed potential vendors to the Navy’s interest in buying end-user hardware including desktops, laptops and tablets as a managed service so that the hardware was reliably refreshed based on the state of technology. The Navy flirted with that topic during the first NGEN solicitation, but ultimately folded that requirement into the larger contract now managed by HP.

The comment period on the subject of end-user hardware has already passed, but vendors have until Aug. 11 to respond to the RFI on cloud computing.

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