connections into the cloud

Following Oracle's lead, IBM files JEDI protest

IBM filed a pre-award protest objecting to the final solicitation for the $10 billion JEDI cloud contract on Oct. 10.

The filing at the Government Accountability Office comes just two days before final proposals are due to the Defense Department for the procurement known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure contract.

It is no secret that DOD has steadfastly refused to budge from its strategy of awarding the contract to a single cloud service provider. This has been despite objections from many in industry and pressure from Congress to move toward a multiple award strategy.

Oracle already has a protest pending at GAO, which it filed shortly after DOD released the final solicitation for JEDI in August.

IBM has been commenting and reviewing revisions to the final solicitation but now that the due date is upon us, the next logical step was to file its own protest.

Other potential bidders on the 10-year, $10 billion contract are Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. Many have commented that the solicitation was written to favor Amazon, though Microsoft is seen as a strong bidder, especially now that it has its own cloud infrastructure rated for classified data.

IBM’s protest filing is not publicly available but Sam Gordy, IBM’s general manager for federal, laid out his argument in a blog posting as well as in an interview with Washington Technology.

DOD has described the JEDI cloud as another weapons system and a single award is not the smart way to field it, Gordy said.

“We have a patriotic duty to protest it,” he said, because of the risk the DOD strategy presents for the warfighter.

Clouds need to be optimized for the mission. Different missions have different requirements so they need different clouds, Gordy said.

If the U.S. went into battle with the JEDI cloud sitting at the top of myriad DOD clouds, “our adversaries would have a single point of attack,” he said. “Where is the resiliency?”

The single award strategy is a step backward and ignores the lessons learned in the commercial world and even other parts of the government over the last decade, Gordy said.

It also ignores policy directives from the White House. The Office of Management and Budget recently issued a new government wide cloud policy known as Cloud Smart; it is the evolution of the Obama era Cloud First initiative.

The new policy emphasizes the need for multi-cloud and hybrid cloud solutions. “That is not what we see in JEDI, which ignores the intent of Congress to ensure America’s warfighters benefit from healthy competition and access to multiple technologies from multiple suppliers,” Gordy wrote in his blog.

The strategy also ignores commercial best practices. “Industry went to the cloud early and we all went to a single cloud and learned that didn’t work,” Gordy told me. “JEDI is out of step and it is important to tell our customer that.”

IBM has been telling DOD that for months, but the message hasn’t resonated. While some tweaks have been made to the final solicitation, DOD’s approach hasn’t fundamentally changed. In fact, DOD has been steadfast in its adherence to a single-award strategy since launching this initiative over a year ago. This has been despite objections from industry groups, individual companies and congressional pressure.

By filing protests, IBM and Oracle are putting their faith and hopes in GAO to recommend a corrective action by DOD to address the problems the companies see in the solicitation.

A decision by GAO on the Oracle protest is due Nov. 14. IBM’s protest decision is due Jan. 18. IBM’s protest should not have an impact on the timing of the Oracle decision.

The corrective action IBM would like to see is a relatively simple one, switch the contract from single-award to multiple award and then let the competition for task orders sort out which cloud offering is best for each particular mission, Gordy said.

Despite its protest, IBM will still file a proposal and meet Friday’s deadline.

“We’ll propose what we think is the best solution to meet the requirements despite the constraints they have placed on it,” he said.

About the Author

Nick Wakeman is the editor-in-chief of Washington Technology. Follow him on Twitter: @nick_wakeman.

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