Amazon and Microsoft compete for Pentagon’s “war cloud” contract

Harry Lye 10 July 2019 (Last Updated July 11th, 2019 10:08)

Amazon and Microsoft are battling to land a $10bn (£8.1bn) contract to develop an AI-driven Cloud computing solution to store and process US military information for a decade.

Amazon and Microsoft compete for Pentagon’s “war cloud” contract
The Joint Enterprise Defence Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud contract has seen significant stumbling blocks during the procurement process. Credis: David B Gleason / CC BY-SA 2.0.

Amazon and Microsoft are battling to land a $10bn (£8.1bn) contract to develop an AI-driven Cloud computing solution to store and process US military information for a decade.

Formerly named the Joint Enterprise Defence Infrastructure Plan (JEDI), the project will store classified data that can be analysed using AI to help the Pentagon make military decisions and pool information more easily.

The technology could fundamentally shift combat operations by giving ground forces direct access to classified information and a constant stream of data for operations.

The Pentagon unveiled the project in a strategy document released last year, saying: “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.

“It emphasises mission and tactical edge needs along with the requirement to prepare for artificial intelligence while accounting for protection and efficiencies.”

The Pentagon has in the past been breached by Russian intelligence services and some commentators have expressed concern that using a Cloud-based solution to store sensitive information may run the risk of future of breaches.

Cranfield University head of digital forensics unit Dr Sarah Morris, at said: “Data on the Cloud is only as secure as the physical system it is resident on. This varies from company to company and device to device.

“However, storing data with a third party introduces a new set of individuals who would have potential access and understanding of the physical systems and security on which the data is stored. At the end of the day, this new set of people is a greater potential source of risk than the technology or implementation itself.”

Cranfield University senior lecturer in cyberspace operations Duncan Hodges added: “With appropriate technical controls some of this extra risk caused by the data being no longer on your own site can be mitigated, but there will inevitably be an increase in the attack surface presented to potential attackers.”

Amazon has been a front-runner throughout the process due to the existing contract for Cloud-based services it holds with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Other contenders for the contract included IBM and Oracle which were knocked out in earlier rounds of bidding leaving just Amazon and Microsoft in the running.

The procurement process has come under scrutiny by Congress and other bidders due to the close relationship between the Pentagon and Amazon. One point of this scrutiny has been meetings between Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and other executives and former Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

Oracle, a major player in the server industry, has begun a legal challenge after alleging that the Pentagon showed a preference for Amazon by tailoring the contract towards it. Opening arguments in the case will be heard in court today.

The winner of the contract is expected to begin work in August but Oracle’s legal challenges have stalled progress.