North Korea and the DOD Cloud

If you’re a follower of current events, you know that the on-again, off-again summit with North Korea is back on-again. If you’re a real follower of all things contemporary, you also know that the Department of Defense is pursuing a similar path toward finding a cloud provider. Some of you may be puzzled as to why this blog is beginning with two seemingly unrelated events, so I’ll clear things up. In the form of Jeopardy, let me explain by stating my answer in the form of a question, “What is the likelihood that either will be successful?”

In contemplating your answer, you may immediately be saying to yourself, “C’mon Chris, you’re comparing attempting to deal with an intractable adversary, with a history of mercurial behavior, to negotiating with the North Koreans. What kind of choice is that?” Hey, nobody ever said that life was fair, but let’s try to deal with the matter at hand.

I think we can all agree that attempting to get the leader of the Hermit Kingdom to denuclearize is not going to be a walk in the park. When the guys sitting across from you at the negotiating table live in a constant state of fear that their regime could be overthrown by an entity that promises to provide each of its citizens a Happy Meal, convincing them to relax their death grip on their chief bargaining chip is going to require a little more than asking them nicely. Currently, experts vary on how much North Korean quid pro is going to be required to garner some U.S. quo. Students of past negotiations on the state of weaponry on the Korean peninsula point out that we’ve historically confused promises for verifiable action. We’re being told that things are going to be different this time. We’ll see.

If you’re one of the big cloud providers seeking to win the long awaited Department of Defense contract to hoist everything from future missile plans to Putin’s home address onto your plethora of servers, you might be thinking that dealing with Kim Jong Un and his advisors du jour doesn’t sound so bad. The crux of the problem surrounding the Pentagon’s efforts to select a cloud buddy is that a number of participants feel that the entire process is really just window-dressing to provide the illusion of fairness prior to the selection of a pre-determined candidate.

Naturally, our government representatives are a little sensitive to any potential claims of impropriety, so they have recently indefinitely delayed its final Request for Proposals to avoid a “rush to failure”. Their words not mine. A major source of contention seems to be around the “winner take all” approach to awarding the contract. For those of you familiar with such things, this is akin to asking the DoD to pass out billion dollar participation awards.

Not wanting to be hasty may be an admirable governmental goal, but when it comes to government, nothing is designed to move with any degree of alacrity. Currently, hordes of Pentagon personnel are sifting through over 1,000 comments submitted in response to a draft RFP. This situation does not bode well for those hoping for a quick turnaround of the document, although in the spirit of “hope springs eternal”, government officials say that September is the “notional” target for awarding the two-year contract. Of course, under the rules of government contracting, any of the submitting companies can contest the ultimate award so no one is making any plans to shut down any DoD data centers any time soon.

Predicting the effectiveness of any government “major project” is always an iffy proposition. Our recent foreign policy forays can’t be classified as unmitigated successes, and the words, “Washington” and “data” aren’t exactly a combination that instills a lot of confidence in anyone. In assessing the North Korea/Pentagon cloud conundrum, you could say that in one situation we are sitting face to face with the enemy, and, in the other, we are our own opponent. Perhaps the answer to the question of which effort will be successful is too binary. Maybe the best way to look at the potential outcomes really comes down to: denuclearization or a Pentagon cloud, whichever comes first.