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JEDI cloud chief quits as award date for controversial 10-year US government cloud deal nears

Chris Lynch, director of the US Defence Digital Service, has assured staff that the 10-year JEDI cloud project will proceed as he confirms his departure

The US Department of Defense’s (DoD) outgoing digital chief has confirmed that its controversial $10bn Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) mega-cloud project will go ahead, despite his imminent departure.

Chris Lynch, director of the DoD’s Defense Digital Services (DDS) division, has played a critical role in the development and design of JEDI, which is geared towards providing the department with a general-purpose, single-supplier cloud environment in which to host its systems and applications.

But in an email to staff, Lynch confirmed this week that he is stepping down after four years in the role, months before the final announcement about whether Amazon Web Services or Microsoft has succeeded in securing the 10-year, $10bn contract to deliver JEDI.

Perhaps pre-empting the speculation about what his departure may mean for the project, given that the contract award date has already been subject to delays, Lynch used the email to restate the department’s long-term commitment to delivering JEDI.

“JEDI is coming (the nerds have won my friends),” said Lynch in the email, seen by Fedscoop. “And yes, DDS will continue to drive JEDI forward today as we have, since the start, to better protect the young men and women who keep us safe. You’re all the really critical part of that. You always have been and always will be.”

The DoD is expected to announce in mid-July whether AWS or Microsoft has clinched the deal, after confirming that the two cloud giants were the last suppliers standing in the hotly contested race to secure the contract earlier this month.

The JEDI contract has been blighted by controversy since it was announced, with initial complaints about the project centring on the DoD’s insistence on awarding the 10-year deal to just one supplier.

IBM and Oracle are among a number of suppliers known to have voiced objections to the project on these grounds, claiming that the single-supplier nature of the contract would tip the balance unfairly in Amazon’s favour.

Both tech firms raised complaints against the deal with a US government accountability watchdog, while Oracle went as far as filing a legal complaint against the federal government, alleging that previously unknown conflict of interests may also have given Amazon an unfair advantage.

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This was after details emerged that an AWS employee had broken up two stints of working for the cloud firm by signing on at the DoD for 18 months, during which time it is alleged that the individual had some involvement in the JEDI deal. Earlier this month, an investigation concluded that no conflict of interest had occurred.

There have also been claims that the single-supplier approach could leave the department at heighten risk of vendor lock-in, given the length of the contract, and that entrusting such a sizeable portion of its IT infrastructure to one organisation could represent a cyber security liability.

That said, the DoD released a cloud strategy document in February 2019 in which it alluded to the fact that it is open to engaging with other cloud providers in instances where the capabilities of JEDI are insufficient to support “mission needs” and is openly championing a multi-cloud strategy across its organisation.

Elsewhere, ethical concerns about whether or not technology firms should be openly engaging in projects that will see their products and services used to wage war and, potentially, end lives, have also been raised.

Microsoft employees, for example, allegedly penned a letter to the company in October 2018 urging it to drop out of the running for the contract for this reason, citing the fact that Google had also previously exited the competition on human rights grounds.

Amazon has also not emerged unscathed by its decision to bid for the project, as whistleblowing website Wikileaks cited its involvement in the deal as one of the reasons it decided to go public with an alleged list of all of the code names and locations of more than 100 AWS datacentres.

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