Finally, a look inside DOD’s commercial cloud JEDI contract

Defense Digital Service Director Chris Lynch speak during the JEDI Cloud Industry Day in Arlington, Va. March 7, 2018. The unclassified event outlined the Defense Dept.’s acquisition plans for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) Cloud. (DoD photo by EJ Hersom)

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After months of anticipation, the Defense Department issued a draft solicitation Wednesday for its upcoming commercial cloud Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure procurement, giving eager vendors a look inside a defense IT contract that, in many ways, is unlike any that have come before it.

At a heavily attended industry day, top defense officials from the Pentagon’s Cloud Executive Steering Group described the acquisition process for the massive cloud migration that will stretch across the entire expanse of DOD, focused primarily on commercial platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) offerings. The 10-year contract will likely be worth billions, though a specific price ceiling hasn’t been floated publicly yet.

The time has come for the Pentagon to flip the expectations about its use of cloud, said Chris Lynch, director of the Defense Digital Service team leading the procurement.

“We want to bend the Department of Defense around the commercial cloud,” Lynch said, meaning the department wants to adapt to embrace the exisiting strengths of the expansive commercial cloud and not limit that with excessive customization. “I can’t make that point enough. We want it here, and we want it out in those austere environments. We want to bring this to the warfighter.”

The department plans to use a full-and-open competition to award a single indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract, though that could change depending on industry’s response to the draft solicitation, contracting officer Chandra Brooks said at the event.

The contract will feature firm-fixed pricing items purchased through commercial catalogs from vendors in a decentralized manner, meaning components will have their own “ordering mechanisms,” Brooks said. However, she told the audience, “I am interested in knowing how industry prices these efforts and any type of commercial pricing or structures that you feel like could be pertinent to this solicitation.”

For now, the contract includes line items for the ordering of both classified and unclassified PaaS, IaaS offerings, as well as support services — which officials stressed as extremely important — and portability. Brooks said, however, she doesn’t expect “the classified solution to be accredited and available on day one” of performance.

But underlying this single award acquisition strategy is DOD’s key requirement for “commercial parity.” The department is well aware that there multiple contractors capable of meeting its technical needs — and it doesn’t want to bar itself from taking advantage of those emerging capabilities.

“We want to remain in pace with industry,” Brooks said. “As new commercial solutions are developed in this field, we want for those services to be brought to the DOD under the resulting contract.”

As Lynch explained, this contract seeks “the foundational blocks, because those are the things that are going to give us the ability to experiment with things we have yet to anticipate.” But also, on the IaaS side, “it must be more than a data center,” he said, referencing requirements like “vendor monitoring, identity, failover, scalability, possibly even artificial intelligence. It is important, Lynch explained, “to make sure that as the commercial sector for software and the great innovation that is happening there, it continues to evolve, that we’re able to take advantage of it.”

Of course, the federal government, particularly the Pentagon, has extremely rigid acquisition regulations that have served as barriers to this type of innovation. And for that reason, Brooks said, “we’ve been talking about is pursuing revisions of internal policies that are unnecessary barriers to success, because we do want to take full advantage of the commercial cloud platform as is.”

That’s where top defense acquisition officials like Ellen Lord come in.

“We’re in the middle of some big changes at the Department of Defense,” said Lord, DOD’s undersecretary of acquisition and sustainment. “We know that we need to change and modernize.”

“We must embrace change,” she continued, adding that the recent restructuring of the Pentagon’s acquisition arm is a “once in a lifetime opportunity to shape our organization and the acquisition system to meet the demands of the 21st century” that “enables … the services and the defense agencies to execute their jobs successfully.”

She went on to say that this contract showcases the kind of innovation needed in DOD acquisitions.

The cloud is “the type of technology driving the change that we in the DOD need to embrace,” Lord added. “It’s driven by the private sector globally at a scale which the DOD cannot compete with. … If we leverage commercially available cloud solutions, we will have the foundational technology in place that we need to deliver better software to our warfighters faster, with better security and at a lower cost. And that software will be easier to maintain.”

Officials continually stressed the “foundational” capacity of JEDI, particularly as a gateway to access the commercial sector. “It helps us becomes better at building things that are repeatable … reliable, scalable and secure,” Lynch said.

“What if we were able to take advantage of all these solutions that have been developed and driven by people who have nothing to do with the federal government?” Lynch proposed. “What if we were able to unlock those capabilities to do the mission of national defense? What if we were to take advantage of the long-tail marketplaces that have developed in the commercial cloud industry? That’s what JEDI is.”

Interested vendors have until March 21 to give feedback on the draft solicitation. And Brooks really does hope members of industry will be open with their thoughts.

“What we hope is that this industry day helps to inform the requirements so that when we finalize the solicitation, it will be something that is reflective of what is actually happening in industry, and it is fair, impartial and unambiguous,” she said.

Brooks anticipates the final solicitation will go live in early May and plans to award the contract in September, though that could change.

Defense officials didn’t take questions at the industry day.

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Acquisition, Chris Lynch, Cloud, Department of Defense, DOD, Ellen Lord, JEDI, Military, Pentagon
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