Google decides not to bid on DoD’s $10B cloud procurement

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Google will not submit a bid for the Defense Department’s $10 billion cloud procurement known as JEDI.

Alieen Black, Google’s executive director, industry lead and group leader for US Government, said in an exclusive interview with Federal News Network that the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) solicitation was not right for the company for several different reasons.

“We couldn’t be assured that it would be aligned with our artificial intelligence (AI) principles. There is one single cloud vendor,” she said. “We determined there were portions of the contract that were out of scope given current government certifications and requirements. Had JEDI allowed the opportunity to have multiple vendors we could’ve submitted a very compelling solution for portions of it. Google believes a multi-cloud approach is in the best interest of government agencies because it allows them to choose the right cloud for the right workload. At a time when new technology is constantly becoming available, customers really should, like DoD, take advantage of that innovation.”

Black said Google will continue to go after cloud opportunities within DoD as well as with other federal agencies that are more open and more multi-cloud oriented.

While not surprising to industry observers, the decision by the Mountain View, California, company is a clear signal to the Pentagon that the JEDI strategy is well outside of the norm.

Alfred Rivera, the former principal director of enterprise services for the Defense Information Systems Agency and now a principal at Breakwater Solutions, said Google’s decision wasn’t surprising for several reasons.

First, he said, the company has been reluctant to “even consider offering a separate infrastructure beyond what they currently have. With JEDI, the fact that a separate dedicated infrastructure for DOD would be required doesn’t seem to fit their delivery model.”

Second, because JEDI would require some level of cybersecurity oversight by DoD, Google also hasn’t been keen on giving direct access to their systems either through the review of code or management of infrastructure components.

DoD not following cloud trends

As far as the signal that DoD is outside the norm, just take a look at what CompTIA reported in its May 2018 report on cloud computing. It found a “vast majority of companies — 83 percent — have performed some type of secondary migration [to the cloud]. Most of those have been a move of either infrastructure or applications to a second cloud provider. There are a variety of motivations here. Better offerings or features top the list, with 44 percent of companies saying this was the reason for their move. Security followed close behind, with 41 percent of companies citing concerns with their original provider. Other common reasons for a move are high costs (37 percent), more open standards (35 percent), and problems with outages (30 percent).”

Going one step further to talk just about the federal market, Nutanix found in a recent survey of federal IT managers that 20 percent of all respondents are using a multi-cloud approach, and of them, 75 percent say it’s working well or very well. Additionally, 44 percent of the respondents recognized that using multiple clouds makes them more secure.

And Deltek, the market research firm, says on average each military department already has 77 cloud providers. DoD officials have been clear that JEDI will not be the only cloud instance across the services and agencies, but account for only about 15 percent-to-20 percent of all cloud services.

So this takes us back to Google’s decision about which Black said was pretty straight forward once her team reviewed the strategy.

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“We are aligning ourselves to contract vehicles that allow a multi-cloud approach and we are heavily pursuing those,” she said. “This certainly wasn’t an opportunity that very many cloud vendors took to support Google. Leaning forward and looking at the overall, the fact of the matter is the DoD is a multi-cloud environment and will continue to be one, and Google will pursue those multi-cloud, open source type environments because we believe that’s the right thing for our customers.”

The other big issue for Google, and possibly for other vendors, is there are requirements in the JEDI solicitation that the company couldn’t meet.

One of those was being certified as a level 6 under the DoD Cloud Computing Security Requirements Guide.

It seems only Amazon Web Services has met the Level 6 requirement. Microsoft has received the Level 5 certification.

“Our plans are to continue to meet some of the requirements, but Google is well known for our ability to provide secure solutions,” Black said. “We are continuing to scale the compliance regimes required throughout the government, however at this time in the way JEDI was currently positioned, there were some compliance or specifications that we do not meet.”

Google’s AI principles at risk

Another issue for Google, Black said, was a single cloud approach may violate the company’s AI principles. Google released its AI principles in June after employees raised concerns about its work with DoD on Project Maven.

Black said while the decision not to bid on JEDI isn’t related to Project Maven, but DoD’s strategy to go with a single vendor could put Google in a tough situation.

An industry observer, who requested anonymity since their company does business with DoD, said it’s clear that with Google deciding not to bid, JEDI will come down to AWS or Microsoft.

“The CIA chose AWS so a lot of people seem to think that makes it the favorite to win JEDI.  If that happens, two questions come to mind: First, does the U.S. government care that it is on course to effectively creating a cloud monopoly?  And second, and this is probably more urgent, what are the security and insider threat implications of entrusting so much of the nation’s national security data to one cloud provider?” the observer said. “For the sake of competition and national security, I hope someone is considering both. If a top-three member of the cloud industrial base has decided not to bid on a premier opportunity like JEDI, what does that say about the DoD’s ability to leverage the breadth of American innovation the way the Chinese leverage their own?”

One question Google’s decision immediately brings up is how it will impact Oracle’s bid protest of the JEDI solicitation. Oracle submitted three amendments to its protest, including one as recently as Oct. 1.

Sources say with Google dropping out the likely bidders are Microsoft, AWS, IBM and Oracle.

Rivera said Google’s decision to withdraw likely will not impact the overall competition.

“First of all, a key part of providing the cloud solution would be support of a migration approach for DoD’s current systems (both legacy apps and current cloud based systems).  I’m not confident that Google is positioned to support a strategy to assist in migrating legacy systems into their cloud-based solution.  If Google doesn’t provide such an approach, each component would have to acquire these services through other means, thus making transitions more complex. That defeats the purpose of having a single cloud solution approach,” he said. “Finally, I think the other players that are potential candidates do have all these back-end services in place to support a single-cloud solution as well as a migration strategy for DoD‘s mission application.”

Black said while Google would’ve liked to support DoD on JEDI, it knows there are plenty of other opportunities in DoD and across the civilian sector to work on.

“Certainly large contracts like that are something every company wants to pursue. But under these circumstances, it makes sense for Google, for where we are in the market, our go-to-market model and our principles, to pursue support of the government in other ways,” she said.

Read more of the Reporter’s Notebook