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‘Information Superiority’ Drives DoD’s New Cloud Strategy

The Defense Department (DoD) has a new cloud strategy that focuses on the U.S. military having the edge over America’s adversaries on information.

Released in February 2019, DoD’s blueprint for adopting cloud recognizes that the most powerful troops are informed troops.

“But overall, this auto synchronization of information will ensure warfighters are retaining data, feeding it back into models, and fighting with the most recent algorithms,” the strategy says. “Doing this in a secure environment will be a force multiplier and directly support the primary goal of the cloud environment: information superiority.”

Cloud’s value to governments at every level is already established, with the technology offering agencies scores of flexible, reliable and consistent services.

But DoD’s plan distinguishes the agency from its peers, however, by acknowledging data’s potential as a game-changing weapon.

“Data and our ability to process data at the ready are differentiators to ensure mission success,” the strategy states. “Cloud is a fundamental component of the global infrastructure that will empower the warfighter with data and is critical to maintaining our military’s technological advantage.”

Unfortunately, the plan also admits that DoD has not effectively used cloud for managing the vast ocean of data the agency handles so far.

“Today, the DoD information environment is made up of multiple disjointed and stove-piped systems distributed across modern and legacy infrastructure around the globe,” it says. “This has caused a litany of problems that impact warfighters’, decision makers’, and DoD staff’s ability to capitalize on critical information to make timely, data-driven decisions.”

Despite these challenges, the strategy makes clear that DoD sees value in quickly adopting cloud for its mission.

“The time is now,” the plan says. “DoD can no longer afford to delay its technological and cultural shift to truly modern technologies. Rapidly providing DoD access to underlying foundational technologies, like cloud computing and data storage, on a global scale is critical to national defense and in preparing DoD to fight and win wars.”

To that end, DoD’s publication says that the agency ultimately wants “an ecosystem composed of a General Purpose and Fit for Purpose clouds.”

Of the two varieties, DoD’s “General Purpose” cloud is the most controversial. The Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud is the subject of fierce public debate over the project’s specifics.

The Washington Post reported last Friday that the details of DoD’s JEDI contract are causing friction among the nation’s top cloud providers.

At issue is the contract’s specifics, which promise $10 billion over ten years to the winning vendor in exchange for agencywide cloud services.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is widely considered the competition’s front-runner, with Microsoft nipping at the heels of its main rival in the cloud market.

IBM and Oracle are also contenders, however, and both companies have forcefully protested the JEDI contracting process. The two vendors have pressured DoD to re-write the project’s procurement request so that the award money will go to more than one provider.

Despite this opposition, DoD has weathered legal challenges from both IBM and Oracle so far. Unless the agency changes direction, the JEDI contract is expected to be awarded in April 2019.

DoD’s “Fit for Purpose” clouds, meanwhile, may help the agency ease tensions in the cloud market caused by the JEDI situation.

“Fit for Purpose” clouds differ from JEDI because they are capable of “supporting mission needs” that the other cloud cannot.

DoD’s new strategy subsequently suggests that multiple cloud vendors could potentially deliver the agency services even if they don’t win the JEDI contract.

A Feb. 4, 2019 press release about DoD’s latest cloud strategy, meanwhile, says that the agency’s plans are based on “warfighter support,” “speed” and “multiple vendors” for cloud services.

As for DoD itself, what does the agency hope to accomplish with cloud? DoD’s strategy lists seven “strategic objectives” for the agency’s cloud services:

  • Enable Exponential Growth
  • Scale for the Episodic Nature of the DoD Mission (Elasticity)
  • Proactively Address Cyber Challenges
  • Enable AI and Data Transparency
  • Extend Tactical Support for the Warfighter at the Edge
  • Take Advantage of Resiliency in the Cloud
  • Drive IT Reform at DoD

“AI” refers to artificial intelligence, a potentially groundbreaking technology that could reduce the burden on human workers involved in complex, cognitive tasks.

Cloud and AI are often mentioned together as the former technology enables the automation, speed and deep data storage that makes the latter tool so potentially powerful.

Working together, AI, cloud and data analytics can enable the “information superiority” that DoD’s seeking.

Other agencies migrating to cloud, meanwhile, may want to consider how DoD’s “information superiority” doctrine applies to their individual missions.

For example, “information superiority” can drive the best possible decision-making in areas including crime, finance and transportation.

As for DoD, “information superiority” can mean the difference between life and death for U.S. soldiers in battle. Fighters that have more information than their enemies are capable of outsmarting them when it counts in combat.

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