It’s no JEDI mind-trick. Google has officially dropped out of the race to become the primary cloud service provider for the United States Department of Defense (DoD). The deadline was this past Friday, October 12, 2018 and Google declined to submit a bid.
Clearly, there are Star Wars fans in the DoD. The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) under President Ronald Reagan was nicknamed Star Wars. Now, the DoD has a JEDI program. JEDI stands for Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure and is the name of the Pentagon’s $10 billion and decade-long contract for cloud services. Naturally, all the major cloud vendors are making a big play to earn that business.
Google now cites its artificial intelligence efforts and concern that such an initiative could violate its principles. Indeed, Google employees have been rebelling against Google participating in JEDI. After all, until recently, Google’s motto was “Don’t be evil.”
Of course, there’s a healthy debate about whether a company should work with the DoD and potentially help build weapons, especially if that company is an AI firm. Nobody wants to see SkyNet become self-aware, but at the same time, freedom isn’t free. A secure United States allows American companies to flourish, including technology providers. Google is enabling the Chinese government in their censorship efforts, despite Google employees objecting to that as well.
More likely the real reason Google abandoned its effort is the second explanation it cited, “We determined that there were portions of the contract that were out of scope with our current government certifications.” Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure have had a head start on the cloud and in particular government validation. Not only do those vendors have specific regions in the U.S. exclusively for government purposes, but AWS also has the Intelligence Community’s Secret Region.
I must confess, whenever I hear about the Secret Region, I think of the Batcave. Then again, I often think of the Batcave! But seriously, the Secret Region isn’t much of a secret. In fact, John Edwards, CIO of the Central Intelligence Agency has discussed it publicly at an AWS event in 2017. Essentially, the Secret Region is a set of data centers owned and operated and physically protected by the CIA that houses equipment provided by AWS. The data center is “air-gapped” or disconnected from the public Internet, ensuring it cannot be accessed by unauthorized individuals or computers.
The IC Secret Region gives AWS a leg up on Microsoft and all of the potential bidders on the JEDI contract. It has been in operation for years and has already proven itself. That same CIA official said “We named it ‘Commercial Cloud Services,’ or C2S, for a reason: It’s because we want to be like commercial; we do not want to be like government. We want the speed of commercial, we want the speed of that innovation.” He continued “I’m never going to say that anything you do in the cyber world is totally invincible… This is pretty close. … This is probably the most secure thing out there.” He concluded by calling the adoption of the AWS Secret Region “the best decision we’ve ever made.”
That will be hard for Microsoft to match and it was apparently too much for Google. Oracle and others remain hopeful, and if the project does not end up as a “winner-take-all” contract, there may be room for multiple vendors. The award will be revisited two years after it takes effect, but that can be an eternity in cloud years.
Whether the contract goes to AWS or Azure, CloudCheckr supports both AWS GovCloud and Azure Government regions. Additionally, CloudCheckr is the only Cloud Management Platform of its kind that is also supported in the Intelligence Community Secret Region. The JEDI project is pricey enough at $10 billion, so it’s nice to know that CloudCheckr could keep those costs down while ensuring security and compliance.
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