Multiple Cloud Service Providers per Federal Agency is the Norm
Published: July 11, 2018
Multiple-cloud environments are common in federal IT
Back in May when the Department of Defense’s Cloud Computing Program Office (CCPO) published its report to Congress explaining its strategy for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI), it made the claim that “initial migration to a single cloud is consistent with industry best practice.” While this may be a questionable claim in the face of evidence to the contrary, the report cited a 2017 Gartner report illustrating the advantages of placing all of the DOD’s data into a single data lake that would enable the enterprise level use of advanced analytics and artificial intelligence. Critics quickly dismissed the DOD’s argument about the benefit of a single cloud vs. multiple interoperable environments, but by all appearances the department seems intent to award a single JEDI contract anyway.
The issue of a single cloud vs. multiple cloud environments got me thinking. The number of cloud-based solutions is growing rapidly, so what is the average number of cloud providers that most agencies are using? Fortunately, this question has an answer. The average, based on dividing the number of civilian and defense organizations represented in Deltek’s Cloud Database by the number of cloud contracts awarded in fiscal year 2017, is 25.68. Agencies across the federal government, including most major organizations within the DOD itself, are already leveraging solutions offered by a large number of Cloud Service Providers (CSPs).
As noted, the average number of CSPs is calculated by dividing the total number of awards made across large and small agencies alike. This does not mean all agencies are created equal.
For example, there are vast differences between large agencies like HHS and DHS and smaller departments like Interior. Some of the differentiation makes sense based on the size of the department. Both HHS and DHS are massive organizations with multiple large components, but size isn’t necessarily a deciding factor. With 93K employees in September 2017, USDA is smaller than DHS with 198K employees, but larger than HHS with 85K employees, and yet HHS uses a larger number of cloud providers. Then there is VA, which dwarfs all other civilian agencies with 381K employees. It uses almost half as many CSPs as HHS. Other factors therefore, like variations in cloud adoption strategies and federation structure, probably account more for the differences among agencies than size. The larger point remains that civilian agencies use dozens of cloud providers and they don’t seem to have the concerns about interoperability that the DOD voices.
Moving to the defense side of the market we find a similar situation. Each branch of the defense establishment uses a large number of CSPs.
This average number comes out to 77 CSPs per military department. Defense Agencies pose a challenge because of the large number of components that fall under their rubric. Deltek has awards recorded for 28 Defense Agency offices/components. Breaking them out yields a much smaller average number of 2.3 CSPs per entity.
Summing up, there is some truth to the DOD CCPO’s complaint that the department’s use of cloud resembles the jumble of its legacy IT environment. The data shows, however, that using dozens of CSPs is generally the normal state of things across government. DOD’s difficulty comes in the fact that the department’s senior administration floats above multiple large sub-departments, each of which is charting its own course to the cloud. This is the challenge that DOD’s senior leadership is seeking to address with the JEDI procurement. In that sense JEDI is probably better thought of as a data hub or data broker than as a standalone cloud infrastructure.