JEDI's 'pathfinder' designation hedges against single provider model

Industry reacts to the Defense Department’s final proposal request for its Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud program.

Rebranding the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud program as a “pathfinder” might by the most telling part of the Defense Department’s final request for proposals released last week. The tweak could help address concerns that DOD is too wedded to the idea that only a single provider can do the job.

“The pathfinder concept at least reflects the fact that DOD does not want to be permanently committed to one approach to cloud services and … find that by locking themselves into a single approach they would in fact deny themselves access” to other technology, William Schneider, Jr., a Hudson Institute senior fellow and Defense Science board member, said during a Microsoft- and Oracle-sponsored Hudson Institute event July 30.

“A single cloud service provider is unlikely to be able to provide the optimized portfolio of functionality DOD users will require,” he added.

Schneider said DOD has made “a lot of bad bets” when it comes to IT, which is why the pathfinder concept could work.

The contract is constructed so that “DOD can get out of the relationship” after two years or go as long as 10 years, “suggest[ing] that DOD is looking for some running room to experiment,” Schneider said. It may not want to “go down exactly the same path the intelligence community did,” he said, referring to the CIA’s 2013 deal with Amazon Web Services for a private cloud.

DOD’s cloud initiative is top of mind for CIO Dana Deasy, who took ownership of all cloud programs in late June and named it in his priorities in early July. But it isn’t quite clear how each of the department’s 500 cloud projects will work with JEDI.

Schneider said the JEDI RFP left a lot of solutions up to the “ingenuity” of the provider, indicating that DOD wants to see what vendors come up with rather than prescribing a solution.

But the opacity of JEDI’s objectives has raised concerns. Congress even added a provision in the must-pass 2019 National Defense Authorization Act that required DOD to outline how JEDI will mesh with the existing Defense Information Systems Agency-run MilCloud 2.0.

Only time will tell if questions are resolved satisfactorily, said Seth Cropsey, Hudson’s senior fellow and director of its American seapower center.

“Accountability needs to be returned to the procurement process,” which in DOD is controlled by several different agencies, he said. The fact that JEDI changed hands -- starting with the Cloud Steering Group, then the Defense Digital Service and now DOD’s CIO -- is evidence of that.

“The idea of cloud computing, of centralizing information, is sensible, but the questions about security, efficiency ... are very much up front,” Cropsey said.