The Defense Department, considered the most technologically advanced agency throughout the federal government, is still playing catch-up with its civilian counterparts in one critical area: cloud computing.
Despite accounting for about half of U.S. discretionary spending each year, the Pentagon has been outpaced by civilian agencies in the last five years in issuing contracts for cloud services. Since 2009, the Defense Department has spent about $750 million on cloud contracts, compared with about $21 billion by other U.S. departments and agencies, analyst Alexander Rossino told C4ISR & Networks.
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The principal research analyst at Deltek also said that defense spending on cloud services will surge to $2.6 billion in 2018, up from $414 million last year.
Cloud computing uses remote servers accessed via the Internet to store and manage data otherwise housed on local servers or personal computers.
One reason for the gap between defense and civilian cloud spending is the simple fact that the Pentagon handles more classified information than most other agencies. The others can often easily adapt commercially available systems to their unclassified needs.
The DOD also has needed more time to certify potential vendors to make sure their cloud services meet higher standards and can operate like milCloud, the military’s secure cloud network. It essentially competes with the commercial market when specific parts of the Pentagon need their own cloud platform. The certification process can take up to six months and cost as much as $5 million – a bill footed by potential contractors, according to FCW (formerly Federal Computer Weekly).
This might explain why certification has gone to companies with deep pockets, such as Amazon Web Services, the cloud computing side of Amazon. The Seattle-based company has been providing the Air Force and Navy with cloud services for years, but the defense-wide certification means the opportunity for more federal dollars. Last year the CIA awarded Amazon Web Services $600 million to create a cloud service for the intelligence community, relieving the CIA of having to build something akin to milCloud, which was developed by the Defense Information Systems Agency.
“You have to understand risk and the data you’re dealing with,” David Bennett, chief information officer for the Defense Information Systems Agency, said last month, according to Nextgov. “As you look at those things, you have questions like, ‘What controls do I have in place?’ We want to leverage commercial opportunities and reap the benefits of doing that, but we also want to verify and make certain what’s out there and that we’re able to understand and monitor that.”
As cloud computing prospers in the civilian world, the competition for federal contracting dollars is likely to increase in the defense realm, where systems require higher security standards.
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