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Why cloud market share matters

According to the Pentagon's chief data officer, there are only three general-purpose clouds:  Amazon, Azure and Google.

And while Michael Conlin wasn't making an endorsement at a Jan. 16 ACT-IAC event on artificial intelligence and automation, he described the differences between general- and special-purpose clouds.

"Everybody else is not a general-purpose cloud. They're a special-purpose cloud for unique things," Conlin said. "If you want to use them for those unique things, you have to be careful about the choices that you make. Because once you get in, it's really hard to get out."

Companies with a large market share are more suitable for long-term, multipurpose use, Conlin told FCW, GCN's sibling site.  

"Market share creates revenue, revenue creates R&D, R&D creates new services, and the pace of innovation in the big three is substantially above the pace of innovation in all of the others," he said. "We have to be able to move existing applications into this environment. The problem with all of the special-purpose ones is that you must convert to their preferred applications."

Conlin also said organizations looking to convert to a software-as-a-service model would fit with the special-purpose cloud offerings. "But if you have something that is not available in that environment -- and some of what we do [at the Defense Department] is not available on the software-as-a-service basis -- under those circumstances you need a more general-purpose environment," he said.

Conlin stressed that his comments were similarly general-purpose, and not specific to any particular project or program. DOD has hundreds of cloud initiatives, but currently is conducting two large-scale procurements that are attracting attention: The $10 billion Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure program aims to serve warfighters, and the $8 billion Defense Enterprise Office Solutions focuses on business applications.

DOD is in court defending its approach to JEDI. Oracle is suing the Pentagon, claiming the single-award solicitation process was unfairly tailored for a specific vendor. Amazon Web Services joined the lawsuit, filed with the Court of Federal Claims, as a defendant because of allegations directed against it in the complaint. A DOD spokesperson said the JEDI solicitation process was still ongoing despite the suit, and an award is set to be made in April.

Using AI to help manage and organize DOD data was the backdrop for the CDO's comments and is also a big driver behind JEDI.

Conlin, who was previously Perspecta's chief technology officer, is charged with making sense of DOD's public and internal data. He said one of the organization's biggest challenges was cleaning up data.

Making DOD's data more easily accessible via application programming interfaces is also on his priority list. "We are a little behind on the API specs, but I'm trying to fix that," he said. The department has published only a handful of public APIs in accordance with Open Government Data policy.

Then there's aggregating, analyzing and managing information at the point of capture, which for military purposes can be difficult because "streaming data off of an aircraft makes a really good homing signal for incoming munitions," Conlin said.

"All the data that's being generated by sensors and scanners and all of these other devices is being generated out at the edge of the organization and actually needs to be managed and analyzed at the edge," he said.

This article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to GCN. It was updated on Feb. 4 to clarify that Conlin was not referring to a specific cloud program.

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is a staff writer at FCW covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at lwilliams@fcw.com, or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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